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Micromanagement versus Delegation - 7 June 2011

Thousands of years ago in Athens, a man called Draco was tasked with writing the laws of the land. But his laws were too severe; so severe they were written in blood. He imposed the death penalty for almost every offence, so that stealing a cabbage generated the same lethal punishment as murder. And if any citizens had debts outstanding, they were forced to work as slaves. The laws for the poor were also different to the laws for the rich. Of course.

Thankfully, living in Athens at the same time was a good man called Solon. The Athenians, so incensed at the barbarism of Draco’s laws, asked Solon to rewrite them. And that’s what he did. Farmers had their land returned, citizens had their debts forgiven, and the slaves were set free. But his best initiative was this: he set up an assembly and gave every citizen a vote, and he created a senate so that the Athenians made their own laws. Very quickly, the Athenians became happy and prosperous.

Solon called it “the shaking-off of burdens”. The difference between Draco’s approach and Solon’s is similar to the workplace equivalents of the Micromanager and the Delegator. The Micromanager rules with an iron fist, hoards all the power, and controls all the decisions. The Delegator, though, ‘shakes off the burdens’. He or she is more consultative than dictatorial, relinquishes power, and shares responsibility.

But many leaders get confused between Additional Delegation and Better Delegation. The former can result in a mess, whereas the latter results in empowered workers. Here are five suggestions on how to become a better delegator.

Delegate Authentically: If it’s obvious you’re delegating just to abdicate some of your workload rather than to help employees grow and develop, your approach may backfire.

Attitude and Skill: Choose to whom you delegate carefully. People need to have the motivation (attitude) and the competency (skill) to be able to succeed.

Define Success: The clearer your employees are on your expectations, the more likely they are to fulfil them. Provide clarity on the result you desire.

Focus on the Outcome: Don’t be so bothered about how an employee achieves an outcome. Just be comfortable that they achieve it. The process is of lesser importance.

Follow Up: Once the task has been completed, provide feedback (and receive it) on what worked and what could be improved.

Prior to Solon taking over, Draco realised his laws were too harsh, so he started to amend them. The Athenians were so pleased that upon seeing him at a theatre, they threw their cloaks and caps at him in honour. They threw so much clothing at him, in fact, that poor Draco was smothered to death. And, forever more, his name would be synonymous with the adjective draconian, a word that could also be used to describe a Micromanager.

 

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