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The Life and Times of a Dev Yes, we're really that weird

I had an interesting discussion with an employee of mine the other day.  He's a former high level executive that decided he wanted to go back to coding.  Of course, he has the money to do that now, so why not!

Anyway, we discussed the difference between abdicating duties and delegating duties.  Very interesting discussion that I hadn't really thought about before.

Abdication of duties involves pushing things out of your processes and letting others do them, while not having any understanding of what they are doing.  Basically, a manager who is abdicating instead of delegating is someone that only deals with what they want to deal with. 

On the other side, delegation is what happens when a manager understands what needs to be done and then assigns someone to perform or be responsible for that task.  A delegating manager designs what they are managing and then delegates the responsibilities of that management to the people underneath him.

Abdication will always come back to haunt the abdicator.  Because they didn't design the system and are only dealing with the pieces that they want to see, they will always be in a position where they need outstanding people under them working themselves to death to keep the functions going, and they will always question whether or not the people under them are doing what is correct or not.  They have no overal view of the strategy of the area which they have abdicated.

Delegation, on the other hand, knows the strategy for what they are trying to accomplish and has merely delegated functions of that strategy to different people.

Here's a concrete example, related to an IT Manager:

Abdicator:  Hires programmers and testers and a sysadmin.  Never gives them clear roles and responsibilities, but instead just says that they should “Do their job.”  Then, when the project is 5 weeks behind, he gets mad and fires the developers because they weren't doing their job, but never really understood what they were doing because he was busy writing code for the nifty FTP component that they were going to use.

Delegator:  Hires programmers and testers and a sysadmin.  Understands that the following processes need to happen for a successful project:  Design, backups, testing, test cases, coding, etc.  Deletgates the design to the architecht, delegates the backups to the sysadmin, delegates the coding to the programmers in conjunction with the sysadmin, deletgates the testing to the testers.  Understands that each of these processes must happen and then tracks the progress of these processes.  He knows BEFORE the project is late that it's going to be late and why, AND he develops the nifty FTP component. :)

Its a subtle difference, but one that really makes a difference, and in many cases, I think it comes down to processes inside of the department/organization--if the responsibilities are defined, and if the processes are defined, then the delegator knows what's going on.  The abdicator doesn't want to get his hands dirty with the processes, and because of that, can't define the roles and responsibilities and everybody flounders.

The things you learn from employees . . .

Posted on Friday, February 3, 2006 6:43 AM Work | Back to top


Comments on this post: Abdication versus delegation

# re: Abdication versus delegation
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I've heard rumors of the type of manager that you described as the delegator, but I believe his/her existence is most likely an urban legend that has resulted from much wishful thinking.
Left by Paul Wilson on Feb 03, 2006 8:16 AM

# re: Abdication versus delegation
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I've seen and worked for both and I'm glad to have a philosophy to qualify them. Now I know what to look for and can determine how to interact positively with eithe type.

I've also been both. Unknown to me I abdicated an assignment to a programmer thinking that he'd know what to do (since I had it in my head how I'd do it) and run with it leaving me to more esoteric IT/IS projects. He didn't get it until we talked which provided him with a good understanding and myself with a further understanding. He knocked the project out in a day where I'd have dallied two or three.

After that I've tried to keep in mind to delegate.
Left by John P on Aug 03, 2006 4:50 AM

# re: Abdication versus delegation
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As a manager when i first started the role i was not aware of abdication vs delegation, after being part of several training courses over the years ive realised my management style has changed and i now delegate the majority of times which has delivered results- staff succession in the store is now improving. My staff definatley appreciate the difference between delegation and abdication and ive now become a leader rather than a manager.
Left by fliss on Mar 07, 2010 1:49 PM

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