Empowerment, Abdication, and Seagull Management

23.02.2018 |

Episode #6 of the course Leadership: How to be a great boss by Chris Croft


Delegation gets easily confused with two other management styles: empowerment and abdication. Hence, we need to understand how to choose between delegation and empowerment, and how to avoid abdication.


Delegation vs. Empowerment

The main differences are how much you monitor and whether you give support. In the case of delegation, you give a task to someone and monitor progress regularly, and you’re available at all times for support if needed. It takes a bit of time to monitor and to support, but delegation is a great management style. There is high involvement for your team members and low risk for you.

In the case of empowerment, you don’t monitor—you just trust the person to do the job. You are available for help if required, but you won’t know if they need help because you’re not monitoring, so it is vital that they come and ask for help if they need it. This shouldn’t be a problem because everyone knows when they need help, so providing that you’re always supportive, they will come and tell you when any assistance is required from your side.

People love being empowered because of the trust aspect, which gives them a strong feeling of ownership. If I’m trusted with a budget, a customer, or a production job, I feel as if it’s mine and I’m not going to mess it up; in fact, I’m going to look after it really well.

The only difficulty with empowerment is knowing whether you can trust someone or not. Partly, you have to ask yourself, “Are they honest?”, but more importantly, “Are they competent enough to just be left to it?” You may want to monitor them (i.e., stay on the delegation path) for quite a while until you feel sure that you can trust them.


Abdication and Seagull Management

Abdication is always a bad management style, but we need to understand it in order to avoid it. Abdication is when there is no monitoring and no support. You’re just absent, and the team members are left to flounder and drown. Abdicating bosses tend to blame the person for failing, when in fact, it’s the boss’s fault for not monitoring and then stepping in and helping get things back on track.

Abdication is highly risky because things can go wrong and you won’t know. Whomever you try to blame, it’s a failure of a task being done in your team. Empowerment is also risky, but less so; although you aren’t monitoring the team, members are motivated to tell you if there’s a problem. Delegation is not risky at all if you monitor frequently and closely enough, because you can always step in and give support in order to get things back on track.

Finally, there are the managers who monitor but don’t give any support. This is known as seagull management because they come flapping in, make lots of noise, and then fly off again. It’s easy to criticize and much harder to support people, so in the end, this method just demotivates the team. Even though it’s quite common, it’s always a bad idea.

So, abdication and seagull are definitely out—the choice is between delegation and empowerment. I’d recommend starting with delegation, and then monitoring less and less frequently until eventually, you have moved to empowerment, where they are trusted and motivated and have ownership. You are still available for support, and they know that.

Homework: Think about whether you are supportive enough when people come to you with problems .Review your monitoring: Do you do it frequently enough? Or too frequently?

Think about whom you could move from delegation to empowerment.

See you tomorrow when we’ll look at how to know when to choose which management style.



Recommended book

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition) by John C. Maxwell


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