​Peter Drucker on delegation in management


There has been for years a great deal of talk about “delegation” in management. Every manager whatever the organization—business, government, university, NGO, or armed service—has been exhorted to be a better “delegator.” In fact, most managers in large organizations have themselves given this sermon and more than once. I have yet to see any results from all this preaching.

The reason why no one listens is simple: As usually presented, delegation makes little sense. If it means that somebody else ought to do part of “my work,” it is wrong. One is paid for doing one’s own work. And if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral. But I have never seen an executive confronted with his time record who did not rapidly acquire the habit of pushing at other people everything that he need not do personally.

The first look at the time record makes it abundantly clear that there just is not time enough to do the things the executive himself considers important, himself wants to do, and is himself committed to doing. The only way he can get to the important things is by pushing on others anything that can be done by them at all.

There are also the meetings one attends, even though nothing is going to happen that someone else could not handle There are the hours spent discussing a document before there is even a first draft that can be discussed. There is, in the research lab, the time spent by a senior physicist to write a “popular” news release on some of his work. Yet there are plenty of people around with enough science to understand what the physicist is trying to say, who can write readable English, where the physicist only speaks higher mathematics. Altogether, an enormous amount of the work being done by executives is work that can easily be done by others, and therefore should be done by others.

“Delegation” as the term is customarily used, is a misunderstanding—is indeed misdirection. But getting rid of anything that can be done by somebody else so that one does not have to delegate but can really get to one’s own work—that is a major improvement in effectiveness. Many executives know all about these unproductive and unnecessary time demands; yet they are afraid to prune them through delegation. They are afraid to cut out something important by mistake. But this mistake, if made, can be speedily corrected. If one prunes too harshly, one usually finds out fast enough.

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