Delegating Responsibility is not Abdicating Accountability

Organisational behaviour trends are rapidly moving towards structures that favour autonomy over hierarchical or command and control. The value of this approach for scaling teams and departments, particularly when combined with agile and lean processes, has led to widespread acceptance. As the ‘rubber hits the road’ with these approaches, we are starting to see some cracks appear. One of the most common areas where challenges are regularly encountered is in the area of delegation.

Traditional organisational structures have always encouraged delegation of authority as an approach to empowering and growing leaders. When overlaid with agile approaches, delegation is necessarily taken to an extreme level. The result? Leaders of all experience levels can struggle to balance appropriate responsibility and accountability between themselves and those they manage.

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Why ‘Why’?

I’m a fan of Simon Sinek. Mostly this stems from the degree to which the ideas he champions resonate with me on so many levels. I’m cautious not to say that we’re aligned; we’ve never met, but regardless of this minor inconvenience, I like to think we are generally pointing in the same direction.

One of his most popular books is ‘Start with Why’. I like the approach he discusses in its pages as it implicitly advocates individual respect particularly in relation to leading people. Blind obedience should not be expected from anybody; at a minimum leaders should feel an obligation to articulate why they are pointing people in a particular direction and by extension why those people should follow them.

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Killing Your Darlings

And why having to is probably down to you

American Writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Falkner originally proposed that ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings’. A simple enough line that has been subjected to much analysis. Falkner’s line is taken to mean that a writer must let go of the elements of their work that they love, but are clinging to due to emotional attachment and not because they are progressing the narrative in any way. Those ‘darlings’ may have suited at their conception but as the story progressed it is plain that they no longer fit.

This same concept has morphed into many leadership articles as you can see here, here, here and most recently trending here.

The rationale is sound, and in many cases these articles emphasise the need for a strong or courageous manager to fire their ‘best’ people, but they often fail to mention where that same manager may be complicit in bringing about the conditions where such radical action is required.

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