Delegation vs. Abdication

2009 | Jan 22 in Training , Home Page News , Systems , Management , Leadership

By E-Myth Business Coach,

delegationOne of the hallmarks of great leadership is effective delegation. This happens when a business owner or a manager regularly gives responsibility and authority to an employee to complete a task. Doing so develops people who are ultimately more fulfilled and productive. And for the manager or business owner, delegating frees you to attend to the important strategic work of business. There is a critical distinction however, between delegating and abdicating, and it's one that many business owners struggle with.

The dictionary defines delegate as: "To give a task to somebody else with responsibility to act on your behalf. To give somebody else the power to act, make decisions or allocate resources on your behalf." Sounds good, right?

To abdicate, on the other hand, is simply this: "To fail to fulfill a duty or responsibility." Not so good, is it?

Giving It Away or Entrusting It

Accountability can be a slippery thing. Some tasks or functions in a business beg to be handed off to someone better suited or qualified. Take financial management for example. Too many business owners want someone else to take on that role, leaving them free to focus on the "fun" stuff of running the business. But if you hand off a task or a function to an employee and completely remove yourself from the picture, you are merely abdicating your role as the business owner.

In Chapter Four of The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber provides an example of a typical business entering its adolescence and abdicating responsibilities to its first employee:

There's a critical moment in every business when the owner hires his very first employee to do the work he doesn't know how to do himself, or doesn't want to do... And in a single stroke, you suddenly understand what it means to be in business in a way you never understood before. ‘I don't have to do that anymore!' At last you're free. The Manager in you wakes up and the Technician temporarily goes to sleep. Your worries are over. Someone else is going to do that now. But at the same time — unaccustomed as you are to being The Manager — your new found freedom takes on an all too common form. It's called Management by Abdication rather than by Delegation. In short, like every small business owner has done before you, you hand the books over to Harry...and run.

Abdication can lead to disastrous results. Tasks aren't completed properly or at all, you have unhappy customers, missed deadlines, financial problems — all of which you discover well after the fact because you abdicated those tasks...and ran!

Remember our dictionary definition of "delegate" is to give someone else a task with the responsibility to act on your behalf. Regardless of who has the responsibility for a task or function in your business, you are ultimately accountable for the outcome. Does this mean you must micro-manage employees to ensure things are done correctly? Or should you just do everything yourself to avoid the danger of abdicating the things you are accountable for?

Certainly not!

When you delegate tasks and responsibilities properly, with structure and forethought, it will free you and your managers from the crushing load of tactical work that keeps you from working on your business.

Some Guidelines for Effective Delegation

If you keep doing all the little daily tasks that you've always done, then you'll forever be trapped doing them and never free up the time to work on your business. If letting go of these tasks is a bit daunting (and sometimes it is, especially if you've always done it and have your particular way of doing it) then take gradual steps.

  • First, identify a task that you want to delegate.
  • Document the correct way to perform this task, step by step, including the quality control standards for each step. (At E-Myth we call this type of system document an Action Plan.)
  • Clearly specify the expected results of the delegated task. Give information on what, why, when, who, where and how.
  • Have someone follow your Action Plan. Maintain open lines of communication. Don't micro-manage, but make sure that you are kept in the loop on progress and performance.Then revise your document until you are both comfortable with it.
  • When the new system document is ready, provide it to the employee responsible for that task, train them on how to successfully run this "system" and insert a copy of this process document into your company's Operations Manual. (If you're asking, "What Operations Manual?" then its definitely time to contact us for help!)
  • Repeat these steps on the next task.

Delegation is a critical component in the development of a business that is balanced and inclusive. It will help you discover the natural place for yourself, your managers and your staff.

Tell Us About It

Have you triumphed and learned how to effectively delegate? Has it freed you to focus on the important strategic aspects of running a business? We invite you to share your experiences by commenting below.

Need Help?

All of E-Myth's programs are designed to help business owners overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of your success.

If delegation is an area you struggle with, consider attending an E-Myth Leadership Intensive Seminar. At this seminar, held in northern California's wine country, business owners from all over the world come together to learn the leadership tools essential to building a world-class business — including delegation strategy. 


  1. .Mark R. says:

    "Do what you love, Love what you do" , As a delegator, you can delegate tasks that you can follow and track. You can love running your business with competent tecnicians running divisions or tasks that you want to be a part of, but do not want to run.

    As an abdicator, a beach and an umbrella drink are waiting for you. As long as those you abdicated to are willing, ready and able to be thier own leaders. More importantly the tecnicians do it right, timely and in a way the customers appreciate. Otherwise, a new opportunity to start a new business may await you.

    As we continue to learn, a technician can do one or two things very well, as a leader you can abdicate many things, many things being done well, but no glue holding them together. As a delegator, you are an entrepreneur that understands how important others are to your success.

    As an abdicator, you realize how important you are to your own success. And others may have the skill, but not the passion. Delegate what you can, abdicate nothing and end up enjoying what you do.

    POWER ON--Mark


    Submitted Jan 22, 2009 2:04 PM

  2. .Nichelle H. says:

    I appreciate the insight! 

    Submitted Jan 22, 2009 4:39 PM

  3. .Andrew B. says:

    Yes, step 1 is to move from technician/professional to performance manager and step 2 is to move from performance manager to people leader.

    see http://www.selfleadership.com/blog

    Submitted Jan 22, 2009 11:10 PM

  4. .Ferdinand N. says:

    Thanks for helping with a clear understanding of the difference.

    Submitted Jan 23, 2009 3:55 AM

  5. .Kelly D. says:

    Yes, I absolutly agree it is so important to delegate what you can. You need to let go of what you would normally do and work on your business. I own a gourment bakery and when I first opened, 13 years ago, I did everything from waiting on my customers, baking the cakes, washing the dishes, decorating the cakes, give the final cake to the customer and deliver. This was a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it. I loved the praise. I loved the feedback I got from my customers.

    I remember hiring my first baker, my first dishwasher, my first cake decorator. It was diffecult to let go, but I knew if I wanted to grow my business, it was so important. I looked at my employee like a piece of equipment. I bought the mixer when I needed one, I bought an additional oven when I out grew what I had. An employee was the same, a means in order to complete the work.

    What I quickly realized was; while I loved the praise and the compliments in the work I did, I love it even more when I knew I didn't bake the cake, decorate it, purchase the products, wait on the customers BUT I still recieved the same praises and compliments. It is more rewarding, as a business owner, to recieve the praises when your hands were not on it at all, but your 'spirit' was!

    Now, I can focus on running my business. I have enough energy to focus on the future not on the tasks at hand!

    Submitted Jan 23, 2009 2:20 PM

  6. .Barry E. says:

    I would be back on deck, This is actually an area i have problems with.

    Submitted Jan 24, 2009 4:36 AM

  7. .Melody A. says:

    I specifically agree with Andrew and Kelly. 

    I have an insurance agency for over 8 years now. I still get excited to get up each day and work in my business. I enjoy the praise and compliments when I do my work. I get the adrenaline when I close cases, get repeat clients and build relationships. 

    Im still at a phase of figuring out how to effectively move to step 2 and focus on not the task at hand but on molding and developing my agency for the future.

    Soon I would also like to get my "high" knowing that business is still growing but with me working mostly "on" my business.  

    Submitted Jan 25, 2009 9:47 AM

  8. .Elizabeth W. says:

    A really great tool I have found is a weekly status report that allows you so track the commitments your people have made to you. For this exercise we don't look at tasks, we look at promises - you can see the difference. A task anybody can do; a promise is a commitment one person makes to another. We make sure every promise has a date when it will be done, and some agreement on what "done well" means - (this would be part of the Action Plan in the E-Myth world).

    So on Friday afternoon, everybody fills out a table in Word (we also use Basecamp Milestones) that lists;

    * project/task

    * current situation

    * what's due this coming week

    * the date it's due

    * who's responsible for it

    People are not afraid to put my name down as being responsible; they "own" the task, and they can get my help where they need it.

    Every day I can look at this report and see what people have promised to have done by that day. If I think there is a problem, I can check in advance to see how things are going and if they need help.

    At the end of the week, people love putting "DONE!" in the current situation column.

    Submitted Jan 26, 2009 11:03 AM

  9. .CHARLES N. says:

    My guess is that a small business owner needs balance; that is, to consider his/her progress in the business development process to be able to ascertain what tasks require delegation.

    My coaching business is still young, my experience is that most clients would ask to see me over most issues. In recent times however, I have identified some tasks I wish to gradually hand over to others.

    Basically, I think the idea is to strike a balance.

    Submitted Jan 27, 2009 12:40 AM

  10. .Sergei N. says:

    Russia, Moscow

    Some time ago I also had an idea that my clients want to see only 'me' when we cooperate. But I understood clearly that it won't help me to move forward. That's why I have made combined visits with my employee to small clients first of all, and then to big clients. And I have made recomendations and introductions of my employee to our clients and watched over the work to make sure that everything is correct. And thanks to Operations Manual (from book of Mr. Gerber) we succeed in this.

    All the best to everyone here!

    Submitted Feb 7, 2009 3:07 AM

  11. .Sergei N. says:

    to Elizabeth W.

    Dear Elizabeth W., would you please tell more about how do your people manage with weekly status report during the week? Or you have another form for that to fix everyday activity?

    Thank you in advance.

    Submitted Feb 7, 2009 3:49 AM

  12. .ERNEST R. says:

    I could not agree more, that understanding the differance between the two allows you to free yourself so that you can get to what you went into business for .That is, to grow the business and be successful. You most difinately cannot think, you can do all that is required to run a successful business alone.DELAGATING IS A MUST. learn it ,and you are on your way to top of your industry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Submitted Feb 12, 2009 12:42 PM

  13. .adam s. says:

    Yes great article. I got myself into situation after abdicating the HR responsibilities to an an employee who then entitled herself as the HR director (we only have 2 employees). In no time she was telling me how we should run the business. Getting back to basics and relieving her from the position until I had clear plan took a lot of back peddling. Now I know the difference it has helped me thinking things through and draw a plan before I try and run from another task.

    Submitted Sep 5, 2011 5:50 PM

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