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Sunday, 13 March 2016

Overworked, Too Busy? Beware of Upward Delegation!

One of the most difficult issues for any leader, especially the newly promoted, is resisting the temptation to retain some of the tasks that perhaps helped to advance them.

Most leaders come up an organisation via a functional route such as marketing, finance technology and so on. For obvious reasons if an issue arises in one of these functions then there is a temptation to dive in.

In fact it is usually looked upon as interference and can generate a good deal of annoyance and irritation in the ream.

The vital key to good leadership is to promote or hire great talent into the top team and then crucially get out of their way and let them get on with it.

The trouble is that this form of benign interference can creep up on the unsuspecting leader. There is generally no unseen agenda, just a desire to be involved and to help out.

This can then engender the dreaded upward delegation where people pass the buck upwards rather than taking the responsibility themselves.

In Vistage we used give out a bookmark with questions that leaders should ask them selves.  One of them still resonates:

       “Whose job am I doing right now?”

It is very seductive because this action can be a comfort blanket for the busy leader. It can take him/her temporally out of the complex issues of driving the business forward and propel them back into the familiar territory of their old function in the business.

I have a surprising number of leaders who worry about this problem and the impact on the business. They are well aware of how it drags them into the day-to-day issues that are the responsibility of the team.

The key is often a matter of trust in the ability of people in the top team. Any leader simply by dint of their position can offer an opinion which while valid would not necessarily add much to the situation.

It is well worth examining the role of the leader in any business.

The true role is to coach good managers in a way that helps them to make good decisions, to encourage them to take an active role in their particular function and to accept that they might just possibly make an error of judgement at some time.

The right approach is to learn from any mistake and perhaps to set up a system to take care of it in the future.

Let us understand. The very need for a leader to move away from their original functional role and into a position for which they have probably had little of no training can be almost traumatic.

There are few if any programmes that actually train leaders to be leaders. Even the MBA programmes at the Business Schools don't offer it even though they may think they do.

Transition from a functional role to overall leadership can be very difficult. Having to resist taking part and even offering an opinion can be very painful.

We all want to feel needed and realising that members of the top team are doing what the leader used to do can be very difficult to accept especially when they are performing really well.

At some, preferably an early, stage the leader must take a grip of the position, accept that the role is not a function and start to think an act strategically.


There are few if any other people in a business that actively think about the future. The leader needs to take time out to think and to resist the temptation to get involved in the day-to-day.  It will serve the business well.

You can download my book "Leading to Success" from Amazon
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