The Difference Between Delegating And Abdicating (And Why It Matters)

The Difference Between Delegating And Abdicating (And Why It Matters)

There’s a standing joke that we each have the same number of hours in our day as Beyonce, yet she has time to be a singer, songwriter, actor, charity founder, dancer, businesswoman, wife, mother, and she’s even courted politics.

Beyonce says her secret is hard work and self-sacrifice, and in addition to that I’m certain it comes down to her ability to delegate and accept support. 

Nobody can do all these things without help and support from people around them.

However, studies of both industry and academia show that women spend more time than men on non promotable tasks that benefit the organisation rather than tackling strategic tasks that help progress their career. 

How do we free up our own time and energy? We learn to delegate.

Reclaim your time

Many of us struggle to delegate because we have learnt to fit in, buckle down and do it ourselves. It’s this overdeveloped sense of responsibility that leads to us taking on too much, and accomplishing far too little as a result.

Over the period of a week, each of those tasks that you said yes to, that you estimated might take a few minutes, can add up and eat away at your productivity. We supported one of our coaching clients at Elevate Talent to delegate more. She freed up eight hours in a week: a full working day.

What could an extra eight hours a week do for you? Think about what you might be able to accomplish by eliminating all those tiny little tasks that don’t contribute a huge amount to your career.

Historically, women also tend to take on the bulk of the invisible load at home, whether it’s helping to buy birthday gifts for their spouse’s family, booking medical appointments or arranging childcare. A combination of taking on too much at work and at home leads to burnout.

In order to avoid burnout or feeling overworked in our lives, we need to learn how to delegate better. As leaders (or leaders of the future), we need to be good at delegating, but it’s a process that’s often misunderstood.

The difference between delegating and abdicating

In the corporate world, the word delegation can often be taken for laziness, which isn’t the case at all. The issue is that many people mistake delegation for abdication, which is a different thing entirely.

Delegation is a two-way process with clear requirements that are understood by both parties. Abdication is palming something off and leaving the other person to fend for themselves.

Imagine a dual-control car. When a driving instructor is teaching you to drive, they do not give you full control of the car on your very first lesson. Over a period of time, they relinquish control to you when they can see that you are becoming more proficient. From that point onwards they will only use their controls if that journey becomes unsafe. 

An abdication of responsibility would be throwing you the car keys and letting you stall, flounder and potentially crash. However, delegation is a clear division of responsibilities, where you are being actively involved in the process, encouraged, and receiving feedback (adjusting accordingly) right up until you are safe to drive without supervision.

The golden rule

To delegate effectively you also need to make sure you are choosing the right person for the task; they must either already know how to do the task, or have the capability to learn quickly through step-by-step training from you in how you want the task to be completed. 

Follow the philosophy: tell me and I forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.

If we leave people in doubt about how best to proceed with a task (abdicating), they’ll waste crucial time trying to work it out, and you may need to re-do or improve on it at a later date. This is not strategic planning.

With the right training, you can allocate projects to your team effectively and efficiently and trust that the work will be completed to the required standard.

Say no

Even if you do not have someone in the workplace you can delegate to, your new-found awareness of the golden rule of delegation will help you free up your time by saying no to the people who are abdicating to you.

Instead of wasting valuable time guessing what their intended outcome is, or how best to tackle a project, you can either request specific training or recommend that the task be referred to someone whose skill set is better suited. If you don’t know or fully understand the process, any task will fall apart, wasting twice as much time in the process. 

An effective delegation partnership between two people means each person shares responsibility for the task: the leader is responsible for the training, and the person being trained must seek clarity around any uncertainties. 

New habits take time to form

Learning the art of delegation takes time. It won’t happen overnight. It takes weeks to learn a new skill and build it into our daily routine. It takes practice to become good at it. We develop our delegation muscles through practice.

If you’re a business leader and recognise the power in supporting the development of female talent within your organisation, get in touch with Elevate Talent.

And, for the latest updates on Elevate Talent and the work we are doing, please follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.