The fear of delegating: a question of moral competences?

DelegationNaomi Shragai published months ago an interesting article in the Financial Times (July 1, 2013), from which I gather some ideas and add ethical comments about the fear of delegating. She begins by telling a short story: A young executive founded a company which prospered and now seems to be at the height of his success. But instead of enjoying his achievements, he is stressed and overwhelmed by his responsibilities. His problem is that he doesn’t delegate. Although he envies those managers who are able to delegate, he feels unable to do so, believing that the company is like an extension of himself and his personality. He never wants to delegate for fear of losing his clients.

I don’t think the story is anything exceptional. Although many executives agree that delegation is crucial to success, many manage a multitude of details  so as not to lose control over them. The consequences of not delegating go beyond possible stress. Collaborators may feel undermined or undervalued, they may lose motivation for their work and the spirit of initiative, and may be less innovative.

1The question is whether delegating can be learned at a seminar or in a self-help manual, or whether is it something deeper that affects the character. Surely some techniques can be presented and, especially, good practices demonstrated, but the author of the article cited is inclined to investigate the roots of the problem. Basing herself on her psychotherapeutic practice, she presents some phrases common of managers who do not know how to delegate, like the following:

  • I’m indispensable in this business, it is centered on me.
  • No one can do it as well as I can.
  • People will probably tend to mark me down.

She also presents a list of symptoms that appear in the manager who is reluctant to delegate, these grouped into seven areas:

  1. Personal. Employees do not contribute ideas nor share their concerns. This may indicate that management is inaccessible and of closed mind. There is high staff turnover.
  2. Teamwork. Everyone is treated equally, which means that management has stopped seeing the differences that make each person unique. All the successes and failures of the company are taken as personal.
  3. Trust. Others are not trusted to do the job as well as oneself. There are low expectations about the performance of their staff.
  4. Control. The manager with fear of delegating believes that everything to do with solving business problems depends on him or her. When the business doesn’t prosper the response is to control the work still further.
  5. Mood. Seems to be in low spirits, which may even become anxiety or depression. Feeling overwhelmed by responsibility.
  6. Family life. Doesn’t know how to separate work from family life and disrupts home relationships at with work worries.
  7. Asking for help. Has difficulty in asking for help. His or her dominant trait is self-sufficiency.

These symptoms, which denote the manager’s fear of delegating, can be related to various moral competencies – virtues  – necessary for good management.

  • Justice. Give everyone what is their due, which includes seeking to prevent one’s collaborators from feeling undervalued and unmotivated for work.
  • Respect. Also related to justice is due recognition of human dignity. An attitude to people which is inaccessible and closed, which does not recognize individual differences and the uniqueness of each person, is not sufficiently respectful of human dignity.
  • Care and development of people. Fear of delegating, as we have seen, leads to lesser development of people . In contrast, appropriate training activities can provide collaborators what they need to make it more likely that delegating to them will be successful.
  • Humility. Feeling so essential in the business, thinking that everything depends on oneself, can indicate arrogance . The virtue of humility checks pride and arrogance and helps find the truth about oneself, and to avoid self-overrating.
  • Prudence. Weighing up decisions and what can be delegated, and asking for help are statements of prudence, also known as practical wisdom.
  • Strength. Knowing how to cut off business concerns on arriving home means strength.
  • Temperance. This virtue helps one enjoy work, avoid falling into bad moods, anxiety or depression, and without being a slave to work.

In short, there is a set of moral competences that can have a very significant role in helping one to delegate and for doing it well. Why is so little said about these management competences?


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