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Delegating Can End as Mere Buck Passing

February 09, 1986

Theories of good management practice are notoriously trendy. Not so long ago, American business was excoriated for excessive bureaucracy. Why couldn't our executives climb down from their hierarchies, eliminate superfluous layers of managers, and stay in touch with the shop floor? Supposedly, that was how the Japanese beat us in world markets.

If "Those Do-It-All Executives Can Do Great Harm" (John F. Lawrence, Feb. 2) is any indication, however, all that is behind us and delegation of authority is the new key to success.

To illustrate the principle of delegation, Lawrence cites a top executive who, after stumbling on some incompetence in his organization, chose not to react because "pretty soon, everyone would be depending on me. . . . " Apparently, even asking subordinates what they are doing on a regular basis is "usually a waste of time." New managers, in short, should sit on their hierarchies, hire some new layers, and keep off the shop floor.

Unfortunately, those looking for a cure-all will be as disappointed with such advice as they were with previous fads. Delegation is merely a technique of management, an option appropriate in some circumstances, but not all. Elevating it from a technique to a virtue merely encourages buck passing.

DANIEL J. B. MITCHELL

Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Management

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