Delegation Gone Wrong

Posted on January 25, 2010


Team Leadership, photo from

Many leaders and managers often fall into the trap of shrieking responsibility in their attempt to delegate their tasks to the team.

Magnus, an operations manager in an IT firm, was tasked to draft out the car parking and traffic plan for the company’s upcoming 30th anniversary celebration. He was given three weeks to prepare before he had to present the plan to the CEO. As he was off on a course for the first two weeks, he only began on the plan on the third week. Believing that the task was fairly easy, Magnus felt that it would suffice to allow his personal clerk, Jim, to prepare the presentation for him. As such, Magnus briefly described his plan to Jim and instructed Jim to complete the presentation with the five days remaining and distribute the plan to the relevant parties. Being IT proficient but weak in his mastery of language, Jim went on to do his best to produce what he felt Magnus was asking for, and distributed the copies as instructed. Magnus only saw the presentation slides Jim prepared on the day of the presentation to the CEO, and was flabbergasted to find many markings of the layout out of place. Moreover, many details were different from what he requested for. Magus was unable to account for much of the presentation details, and was given a huge dressing down from the man at the top.

As we can see, Magnus’ failure to ensure that delegation was properly executed cost him dearly. However, such a situation is a fairly common sight. Like Magnus, many leaders err in shrieking responsibility, that is, to literally dump a task that was assigned to him to his subordinate to handle. There are numerous problems in such an action. Firstly, the task was assigned to the leader for a particular reason, likely due to his abilities and resources that will allow the task to be completed with a reasonable standard. Passing the job to someone down the line would likely result in work with is of a lower quality. Secondly, realise that it is immensely unfair to the person on the receiving end of the failed delegation, for his boss will likely be given the credit should he do a good job but he would take the blame should it be a shoddy one. Moreover, in the case of Magnus and Jim, the poor clerk was only given a week to complete what Magnus was supposed to complete in three. It also did not help that Magnus did not clarify his expectations of Jim nor even vet it before it was sent for presentation. Naturally, Magnus certainly deserved the wake up call.

It is imperative that we understand the difference between delegation and shrieking responsibility. For the former, we always monitor the progress of the task we delegate. That is, we constantly check on how much and how well the task has been completed. This way, we stay responsible for the standards of the task and stay in control of the situation. This is as opposed to the later, where, in the case of Magnus, the task is just issued to our subordinates and they are left to fend for themselves. Delegation also involves the task to first be submitted to us for review and coordination. Shrieking responsibilities, on the other hand, would bear the characteristics of issuing and consider the task done, as demonstrated in the scenario above.

Successful delegation is the hallmark of a good leader; it shows his ability to maximize the skills of the team and coordinate a group of people to achieve a desired outcome. Shrieking responsibility, however, is the sign of a selfish or incapable leader, who will not go far with his team due to his disability to ensure standards and lead his team by example. Learning to efficiently delegate tasks is a crucial leadership lesson for the aspiring leader who wishes to be effective in management.

See Also:

Delegating Effectively