9/1/2001 | 8 MINUTE READ

Route to the Top: Seek Out Responsibility

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The average reaction to a new assignment is: “Why me?” Fear of failure temporarily paralyzes initiative; self-doubt sets in.But why be average?Seek out responsibility and you immediately do three things.


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The average reaction to a new assignment is: “Why me?” Fear of failure temporarily paralyzes initiative; self-doubt sets in.

But why be average?

Seek out responsibility and you immediately do three things. You announce your self-confidence. You create an opportunity to show what you’ve got. And by taking the initiative, you immediately eliminate 90% of your competition—the timid ones.

If you look around for something to do when your immediate assignment is fulfilled, if you stay with a job when others would let down, if you’re willing to show someone else how to do something, you’re the responsible kind who is likely to get noticed. If, on the other hand, you work only upon instructions and under supervision, you might be well advised to turn over a new leaf.

Secrets of Successful Delegation
Delegating not only makes your work easier and your people’s jobs more interesting; it helps you improve your department’s productivity, identifies you as a leader, and is a potent training tool.

Despite these pluses, however, a certain number of managers don’t delegate. Some are reluctant to because they fear that their people will fail. Others resist the technique because they fear their people will succeed—and be promoted out of reach.

They’re all wrong. A good delegator is a good manager because delegating accomplishes so much: it teaches... builds confidence...gets things done.

If fear of failure is preventing you from using all the talents of your people, try this seven-step approach in delegating work.

Delegate the right function. Before you delegate a job, make sure you’re familiar with it. Then you’ll be able to tell from the questions an employee asks whether he or she is on the right track. Familiarity with the job will also help you anticipate questions and have the answers ready. Most important, your ability to explain the job thoroughly will reduce the risk of error.

Plan the job to be delegated. Write out the name of the job and expected results. If the job is to summarize monthly production figures, describe what is to be achieved by this effort. Knowing the broad purpose of the task helps the employee handle the responsibility more competently, and to improvise if problems arise or conditions change.

Also describe the steps involved in doing the job and any decision-making that it entails. List sources of information, records that must be kept, the names of people involved in your work.

Establish standards. That is, describe what constitutes minimum levels of quality. The requirement for completing a certain job by 5 p.m. every day, for example, is a standard. Specify all the factors that you will check before giving the work your approval.

Make sure you have necessary feedback and control procedures. The proper way to get feedback isn’t to breathe down a person’s neck; it’s to establish controls that will signal progress and any errors while there is still time to make changes. This is the time to make certain decisions.

First, how often or at what points do you want a progress report? Daily? Twice weekly? Three times a month? Feedback should occur often enough to keep you from becoming nervous and be in proportion to the scope of the delegated job.

Second, what information should you request? Checking everything would take too long; checking too little could be risky. You need just the right kind and amount of information to find out whether things are going right.

Third, what form should the feedback take? A brief written report on progress? A checklist filled out by the employee? A short face-to-face meeting?

Pick the right person. Ms. or Mr. “Right” should meet certain specifications—ability, above all. Take pains to match the needs of the job to the interests of the individual. In addition, the amount of responsibility inherent in the job should be right for the person involved. Too great a challenge is threatening and may lead to failure; too small a challenge may lead to boredom. Finally, the employee should be capable of working smoothly with the people with whom he or she will be coming into contact.

Draw up an assignment description, including the name of the job, its purpose, standards and requirements, and limits of authority. This information should be focused so that it communicates to your subordinate without insulting him through too many details.

Give the assignment. The actual act of delegating should take place in your office during an uninterrupted period. Go over the job description with the employee. If possible, provide an example of what the properly done task looks like. Then do the first few steps of the job with the employee, if feasible.

If he or she will be working with others, speak to them about the specific authority you have delegated and emphasize that you will stand behind any decisions made by the employee.

Now the employee is on his or her own. It’s only natural to wonder if the job is being done correctly...and whether you should offer help. Don’t. Just as important as the delegation of work is demonstrating faith in the employee’s ability to do it. This means giving free rein, within the limits you have defined, to complete the job.

Reconsider that Transfer
There are many legitimate reasons for transferring an employee: a shift in company needs, a worker’s desire for advancement, a sudden opportunity, a family crisis.

But some managers are guilty of engineering transfers to rid themselves of misfits. By “exporting” their problem people, they may get personal relief, but the company does not.

Therefore, consider your transfers from the company point of view. Are you using them as punitive measures? To avoid your responsibilities as a manager, which include counseling your people when they do not perform well? To pass the buck? Those are all the wrong reasons.

Besides, if you make a practice of transferring your problems, it won’t be long before your reputation will suffer. In the long run, you will pay the price in unpopularity and the suspicion that you are not a very effective manager.

Tips on Hiring Key People
Here are some suggested questions to answer before you decide on hiring, promoting or selecting someone for an important job:

  • What is the exact position I want to fill or the assignment I want carried out?
  • What are important qualifications for the incumbent?
  • Who are the people he or she will have to deal with every day? What particular prejudices or biases do they have?
  • Is this a newly created or an existing job?
  • If the previous incumbent resigned, did it have anything to do with the way the job was organized?
  • Do I want an individual with a lot of drive or a docile person?
  • What personality traits, if they show up in the interview, would bar the individual from further consideration?
  • Would I be willing to take a chance on a person who might stay only a few years?
  • What challenges does the job present?

Are You A Help or A Hindrance?
Although it probably doesn’t appear on your job description, one of your responsibilities is to be helpful to others. The recipient of your help may be your boss, a colleague or a subordinate, someone who will depend on you for help at some time or place.

This doesn’t mean he or she is incompetent. There are many reasons why your help may be needed. The other party may be pressed for time and therefore cannot be involved in gathering all the pertinent facts. Another point of view may help to clarify thinking and offset preconceived notions or prejudices. Or, if the decision will affect people, more than one judgment may be needed.

But just because you are asked to help does not qualify you to help. What does? Here is a self-evaluation checklist.

  • Have you had any actual experience or training in the matter?
  • Has your experience been limited or does it cover a diversity of situations?
  • How relevant has your experience been to the particular situation under consideration?
  • Is your knowledge of the subject up-to-date?
  • Do you stand to gain or lose from the decision’s outcome?
  • Are you likely to be so strongly biased— or at least suspected of being—that you should withdraw from participation?
  • If you recognize the possibility of bias, but still feel you have an important contribution to make, should you not strengthen your position by acknowledging this?
  • Do you have the personal attainments, experience and stature in the eyes of others that will cause them to put faith in your views and judgments?
  • If you conclude that you lack the requisite recognition, should you try to overcome this in your presentation or should you make your contribution through others whose views may be given more credence?

Your answers to these questions will give you a fairly accurate idea of whether or not you are truly qualified to help. If you aren’t, you are better off explaining why you would rather not participate. Then, when you are, your credibility will be beyond reproach.

For Increased Efficiency, Organize Your Efforts
The real secret of accomplishment is to know precisely what you want and what steps you need to take to get it. In short, your efforts must be organized. How? Like this:

Define your problem. Exactly what has to be done?

Assemble all the factors. These include people, dates, correspondence, work already done, tentative plans.

Break up the larger factors into their smaller parts. A king-sized ingredient that defies analysis can be whittled down to pint-sized, manageable elements.

Grade the factors according to importance. Getting a particular letter out is insignificant compared to finding ways and means of making your office run smoothly. First things first—always.

Adopt a schedule. By assigning yourself specific tasks to be accomplished in a predetermined period of time, you keep yourself on your toes.

Follow your plan. If it proves unsuitable, you can change it. But as long as it remains in your plan, stick with it.


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