January 17, 2016

I must confess that the lure of the Indian Ocean and all those beautiful white sand beaches in Perth meant that I didn’t keep up my promise to update my A to Z extracts every week over the New Year period. But I’m back at “work” i.e. sitting at my study desk contemplating the comment that someone made last night – that I should write a version that is simply the A to Z of Management because there are plenty of comments and stories in the book that apply to the life of managers no matter what industry they work in.

My topics under the heading “D” are:Decision making, Delegation and Diversity all of which are relevant to every manager. The Delegation section is short but it’s one of the topics that comes up time and time again when my students talk about the bad managers they’ve had: people who micromanage and don’t know how to delegate.


The favourite management writer of a friend says that leaders have to focus on a “reasonable number of issues that will have the greatest possible impact on the success of your organisation, and then spend most of your time thinking about, talking about, and working on those issues” (Lencioni, 2000, xiii). This comment implies that there are going to be tasks that you either shouldn’t spend too much time on or that are more appropriately done by someone else.  That’s a good reason to delegate.

But an even better reason to delegate is because you’re not being fair to good staff if you don’t delegate some important work (De Pree, 1997). One way to motivate people is to give them the chance to undertake and to succeed in doing new work and meeting new challenges. You can delegate general functions such as budget control, people management, purchasing, strategies around service and performance (Hudson, 2009) and you can delegate particular tasks or projects or new initiatives. What you can’t delegate are the big ticket items such as policy making, crisis management, serious people management issues and of course both the rituals and requirements of leadership.

By delegating, you are making better use of your time, giving people development opportunities and using people’s skills effectively. As Drucker (1990, p.117) says, everyone believes in delegation so why is it seen to be one of the hardest management tasks? There are specific reasons why it’s hard in arts and cultural organisations. Managers are especially dedicated, believing in the cause, willing to work long hours and so the temptation is just to work that extra hour or two each day and get the job done. There usually aren’t enough staff anyway and they’re overloaded already. Sometimes there is only one or two other people in the office so who can you delegate to? All of those points may be true but there are ways around them. For example, in a small arts company, there’s always the Board. You can delegate upwards. Even if you and your staff are stretched, then delegating will help you to do your job more effectively and potentially make someone else’s job more interesting. And perhaps you can get a volunteer in to do some of the more mundane tasks.

In general, people avoid delegating because they fear that the person won’t be able to complete the task, that the person won’t want to take on extra responsibilities, that by delegating one loses control, that the staff member will take longer than you will to do the task. Again, all of these points may potentially be true but the trick to delegation is the set up: choose a good person, explain the task clearly, arrange to get regular reports and provide feedback (including praise) and make sure they have the relevant information. Don’t dump the boring or unpleasant jobs on people and don’t overburden them.  It requires clear understanding from both parties about expectations and a joint commitment to the task.

I suspect that that the main reason why people don’t delegate is that they are still accountable for the results even though they haven’t done the work. That’s scary – but you can’t do everything and so trust is a necessary part of the work environment.”


De Pree, M 1997, Leading Without Power, Shepherd Foundation, Holland, MI

Drucker, PF 1990, Managing the Nonprofit Organization, HarperCollins, New York

Hudson, M 2009, Managing without profit: Leadership, management and governance of third sector organisations in Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney

Lencioni, P 2000,The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco