The art of delegation

Reading time 5 minutes
The art of delegation

Managers delegate tasks to employees - that's how most people know it. But is this true at all? And is it still in keeping with the times? Or delegate good managers not actually something else? Today, it is no longer enough to distribute tasks and then check the results. What leaders delegate and how they do it has changed again and again over the years and decades. Here's what you need to know when you delegate.

Imagine you are 21 years old and are supposed to take over the family business. You'd rather play electric guitar. But then you accept the responsibility.

You take up your post as owner and Managing Director and find arch-conservative structures. Annual sales: $4 million. Then you turn everything upside down. You overturn hierarchies and let everyone decide for themselves when they work. And twenty years later, sales are $212 million. You've increased it fiftyfold.

In this context, one might consider whether the conventional management style of hierarchies and work instructions is wise.

A true story: "Participative management" at Semco

The story is true, by the way: it was experienced by Ricardo Semler (* 1959), who took over the Brazilian company Semco from his father. Ricardo Semler has published his memories in the book "Maverick"described - in German: "Außenseiter". Subtitle: "The success story behind the most unusual workplace in the world".

In his book, Semler writes that when he started, Semco was "a traditional company in every way," "with a pyramidal hierarchy and rules for every little thing. Today, however, our factory workers sometimes set their own production quotas and even meet them according to their own work schedules, without having to be driven to do so by management or to be paid for overtime."

As his first official act, the young boss threw rules overboard. For example, the budget limits for business trips. Semler writes: "At Semco, our people should spend as much as they think is necessary. (...) If we're afraid to let people decide for themselves what class they want to fly in or how many stars their hotel must have, we really shouldn't send them off to do business on our behalf, should we?" Semler calls it "participative management."

Still the classic: top-down managed companies

And now let's take a look at classic companies in Central Europe today. Typical management structures with top, middle and lower management. The top management gives the Company goals middle management defines and organizes the processes, and lower management instructs people to drive the forklift. Put simply, it's like the military: the commander sits at the top with his staff, below him are the officers, then come the non-commissioned officers and then the crew ranks. The chiefs dictate what needs to be done, and the staff does it. Top-down.

Of course, most people in today's companies already know that these rigid hierarchies are no longer in keeping with the times. But hardly anyone dares to take a radical step like Ricardo Semler. At a start-up, everything can be reinvented, sure. But at an established company that is as agile as a deep-sea tanker? Not entirely undercomplex.

That is why many managers try to achieve as much as possible on a small scale. They let as much sense as possible flow into their decisions, but at the same time they are regulated from all sides. Through regulations, processes and hierarchies. They grit their teeth looking for a way to cut this Gordian knot that constricts them so much and prevents them from making many important decisions in the first place. This will continue to be the case as long as management doesn't turn everything upside down like Ricardo Semler. And yet, leaders can make a difference.

Delegate tasks or responsibilities?

Basically, managers delegate tasks - that's the convention. They juggle the tasks they get "from above" with the employees' time allocation and with responsibility. Every once in a while, they hold annual reviews and set goals. And yes, sure, they motivate their people. With bonuses and incentives. The vast majority of managers work like this. They "lead" their team and stand in front as the boss.

Although the leadership literature has long been talking about the fact that managers should not only delegate tasks, but above all responsibility, this still happens too rarely in the vast majority of companies. This is also because the whole thing is a contentious issue: Is it even possible to delegate responsibility? Doesn't it always lie with the boss and stay there? In many companies, the idea has taken hold: No, you can't hand over responsibility. If something catches fire, the respective manager is still the one who gets roasted. And that's why we still only delegate tasks.

At the same time, one thought is captivating: As a manager, you may not be able to relinquish overall responsibility for a result. But you can at least hand over the decision-making responsibility for it. So: You can leave it up to your employees which path they choose.

Simple example: It is your responsibility as a boss to ensure that a nice Christmas party takes place in a nice location. But you don't have to decide the location yourself. You don't have to decide whether there will be a menu or a buffet, and you don't have to decide that you will have a curling contest. You can trust your team with all of that. Give them the decision-making responsibility! This gives your people the appreciation that you trust them to decide professionally and competently.

The business coach as a mediator between the worlds

By the way, there is another exciting thought that you can include in your considerations. A little Semler is possible - even in ordinary, hierarchical companies. You can develop your competence in delegating decisions to true mastery.

In addition to the classic leadership methods, there is also the possibility, Coaching methods to apply. In other words, you take on a new role. In addition to the manager, who now represents a higher level of the hierarchy in professional and/or disciplinary terms, you are also a coach at eye level. You talk to the people in your team in such a way that they come to the essential decisions that need to be made in a very organic way. It's a terrific way to let employees think about the big picture and help shape it. It's a little bit of Semco.

At Greator we are convinced that leadership today needs coaching skills. Business coaching, to be precise. The point is to let the people in the company come up with the decisive ideas on their own. This is certainly also possible in traditional companies - many employees feel unappreciated by their employer because no one asks them about their deeper motives and potentials.

You can, even if you're the boss. business coach Be. As Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.) says, "If you want to lead people, you have to walk behind them." That means leaders take a step back and let their people take the stage - through decision-making authority.

Are you already in?


Experience Europe's largest festival for personal development, fulfillment, business success and sustainability LIVE in Cologne! You can expect +150 speakers +10,000 participants +6 stages 


10 Business Coaching Tips for Your Career

You want to get to the next level in your job faster?

Then get 10 free tips to help you succeed in management and leadership now!
Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

Like this article? Don't forget to share!

Recommended by Greator

Greator SloganGreator Awards
Data privacy
Cookie settings
© copyright by Greator 2024