Coping with Super-Delegators


To do a good job in any organization, you need to know where you’re going, how much authority you have, and how well you’re doing. Your boss is supposed to supply this information. Unfortunately, some bosses are “Artful Dodgers.” In previous posts, I focused on the Staller and the Waffler. In this post, I’ll focus on the Super-Delegator. In Coping with Difficult Bosses, Robert Brahmson writes about how to cope with Super-Delegators.

Do you work for a Super-Delegator? Super-Delegators are mistakingly confident that they are firt-rate managers, because they are super delegators. They often blame their subordinates for misteps, late or incomplete assignments or lack of follow through. Because of their Laissez-faire approach, they can often fail to provide you with important perspective, timely information, or guidelines on how you can do a first-rate job.

Dumping Isn’t Delegation
It’s easy to mistake Super-Delegators as great managers. If you only looked at what they said, Super-Delegators would seem wonderful examples of good management practices. The problem isn’t pushing too much delegation, it’s using it inappropriately and unskillfully. Super-Delegators confuse delegation with dumping. For example, while Super-Delegators are usually quite willing to enumerate goals, then tend to be casual about the specifics that count – priorities, the standards by which your performance will be judged, or guidelines for resolving sticky policy questions.

You Don’t Know All the Rules
If however, your decisions, or the way you have implemented them, don’t meet your Super-Delegator’s expectations – the ones they neglected to tell you about – you may find that you have not only lost their support, but they have sided with their own bosses, or with accusing customers or clients, in targeting you as a villain.

Three Factors Behind a Super-Delegator
Super-Delegator’s are the result of three factors: An incomplete knowledge of the delegation process, a wish for more personal freedom of action than most managerial roles allow, and an erroneous perception that others are as impatient with any sort of managerial direction as they. For a smaller group of Super-Delegators, a fourth factor is the culprit, a disquieting suspicion that they many not be worthy enough to direct the affairs of others.

Coping with Super-Delegators
Bramson provides techniques for coping with Super-Delegators:

  • Let them know how you want to be supervised. Most of us believe that what we want from supervisors is what any sensible person would want, and is therefore self-evident. That fact is that unless we inform them otherwise, most people will treat us as they would like to be treated, which may not be at all to our liking.
  • Negotiate your level of authority. Flexible expressions such as “coordinate,” “in charge of,” “leading role,” and “it’s your bailiwick” are misleading. For example, have you ever been “in charge of” the mail room only to discover that your “decision” to limit exepnsive overnight mail has been countermanded by a higher authority. Obviously, “in charge of” did not mean “full authority to manage.” The point that some bosses miss is that complete freedom is illusory, if restrictive conditions actually exist. When you ask, “What’s my level of authority?” you merely make those restrictions visible.
  • Coax out guidelines. If your boss later disagrees with decisions you made, get in the habit of asking about the thoughts behind that different decision. Once again, the essence of coping with difficult people, bosses or not, is moving past that understandable thought, “Why do I have to make them do what they should be doing anyway.” Once you’ve recognized that your boss does what they do because of who they are, and it is that “who” with which you have to cope, doing what you need to do to get what you want becomes a practical matter rather than a moral issue.
  • A time to meet. Scheduled one-on-one meetings can provide a way to temporarily anchor down your Super-Delegator. Unfortunately, while Super-Delegating bosses may readily agree to meet with you, the meeting schedule can quickly errode because of their wide-ranging interests. Don’t take this as a sign it was a poor idea, just keep rescheduling as needed.
  • Agree on turn-around time. Since Super-Delegators’ interests are wide and scattered, they are often remiss in returning phone calls and messages. You need to know when your boss will actually get back to you. Settle for a response interval that you boss can actually live with, even if you would prefer something shorter. Having an approximation is more important than the length of the turnaround time.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Know that at the heart of the issue is the Super-Delegators desire for freedom.
  • Distinguish between skillful delegation and irresponsible dumping.
  • Set expectations with your boss on levels of authority and how you’d like to be managed.
  • Figure out the communication rythm and have a forum, such as the one-on-one that you can count on to keep the flow of information and stay on top of changes.
  • Reverse engineer the tests for success. If you continuously clarify your bosses negative reactions to your results, you should be able to figure out the patterns behind them, and learn the ropes. It’s likely that your boss doesn’t know what good looks like until after the fact and with hindsight.

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