7 Deadly Sins of Delegating

7 Deadly Sins of Delegating

08.04.09Ron Ashkenas

Most people actually want a challenge

By Mary Ellen Slayter on August 4, 2009

Today’s guest post is by Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner of Robert H. Schaffer & Associates and author of Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done.

We all complain about complexity in organizations, but sometimes we cause that complexity ourselves through unconscious but counter-productive management actions. One area that is particularly ripe for tying the company in knots is the way leaders give assignments to their people. Most managers struggle with finding the right balance between being too tough or too easy — and when they overcompensate either way it can cause confusion.

My colleague Robert Schaffer has identified “seven deadly sins” of giving assignments, all of which are motivated by the desire to avoid confrontations with subordinates. As you read the descriptions, ask yourself if you recognize any of them in your own work.

  1. Backing away from expectations. Then a goal really becomes a wish that people can choose to ignore.
  2. Engaging in charades. This conveys that the goal is just an exercise that you have to do for appearance’s sake, but you know it’s not really going to happen.
  3. Accepting see-saw trades. If your people take on one goal, they get relief on another.
  4. Setting vague or distant goals. By putting the time frame far out into the future.
  5. Not establishing consequences. Then it’s impossible to differentiate between those who successfully achieve goals and those who do not.
  6. Setting too many goals. This allows subordinates to pick and choose the goals that they either want to do or find easiest to do — but not necessarily the ones that are most important.
  7. Allowing deflection to preparations and studies. This delays the moment of commitment to a real goal.

All of us are assignment sinners at various times, often without realizing what we are doing. They key to becoming more effective is to realize that most people actually want to be challenged and stretched — and that setting tough goals and sticking to them may be the best way to develop our people — and become better leaders ourselves.

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