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Blog: The Art of Delegation

Are you feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work you have on your plate? Do you feel indispensable, like you can’t take time off without everything falling apart? Have you missed deadlines? Do you work long hours? Are you making all of the decisions? Do you feel too busy to check in with direct reports or colleagues? Have you been told that you need to delegate more? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you likely have difficulty with delegation.

The benefits of delegating are many and widespread. When it is done well, delegation is helpful to everyone in an organization--mangers and team members alike--and there are additional benefits the organization as a whole. For the manager, it frees up time to focus on other projects and managerial responsibilities. It also allows managers to discover their team members’ capabilities and strengths and to learn where there may be gaps in skill.

For team members, having work delegated to them provides professional growth opportunities. While training is good, actual experience is always better. Team members are able to develop new knowledge and competencies. Delegation increases confidence and self-esteem. It improves trust between managers and team members, which is, as Stephen M. R. Covey says in his book, The Speed of Trust, “the most inspiring form of human motivation.” When people feel trusted, they are inspired to do better.

So with all of these benefits, why is delegation one of the most common challenges leaders face?  Why don’t we delegate more? Several tips will help you become a better delegator.

  1. Understand why you are not delegating.

The first step to becoming a better delegator is to understand why you’re not delegating. You may find yourself saying things like:

  • “It is quicker and easier to just do it myself.”

  • “I like things done my way.”

  • “My team is already too busy. I don’t want to overload them.”

  • “I can’t trust anyone to do it right.”

  • “I’m a ‘doer’, not a ‘delegator’.”

  • “This is work I like to do and I don’t want to give it up.”

  • “I’m responsible for what happens, so I can’t delegate.”

Think about the work you do and what work can be delegated. Make a note of your thoughts about why you are not delegating that particular task, project, or assignment. Understanding why you’re not delegating is the first step to overcoming these feelings. 

  1. Measure how you’re doing to determine opportunities to delegate.

Accept that you can’t do everything yourself and adjust your behavior. For a few days keep a daily diary of how you spend your time. Identify patterns. What are the activities that could have been delegated? What work are you doing that could be developmental for team members?

  1. Choose the right people, the right work, and the right time. 

Delegation is an intentional and thoughtful process. It is not dumping work that you don’t want to do or assigning menial tasks. It is not scrambling to find someone to finish a project when you’re about to miss a deadline. Delegation requires choosing the right person for the right job at the right time. It requires choosing team members with both the skills necessary for the task as well as the motivation to do it. It requires careful planning to ensure that you have time to train the person to whom you are delegating if necessary, set up communication channels and resources, and clarify expectations. 

  1. Integrate delegation into what you already do.

Make delegation part of your process when you work with team members to create goals and development plans. Discuss with team members which types of projects and tasks they want and need to take on to grow professionally. Review development plans on a regular basis. 

  1. Ask others to hold you accountable.

Build in mutual accountability. Hold team members accountable for doing the work, and hold yourself accountable (with their help) for letting them do the work. Let others know you are working on delegating skills and ask them for feedback if they think you missed an opportunity to delegate. 

  1. Really let go.

Avoid micromanaging, but at the same time don’t be too hands-off. Let the team member lead and take responsibility. Allow them to make and learn from mistakes. This establishes trust and encourages a culture of learning. 

  1. Learn from experience

Once you start delegating more, pay attention to the results and learn from your successes and mistakes. Ask yourself questions such as: Can I delegate more complex tasks? Do I need to monitor progress more closely? Am I giving the right amount of feedback to this team member?  

The “Working Manager”

A lot of times we hear about the challenges of being a “working manager”—of knowing how to balance delegating with doing.  When thinking about delegating and doing, you don’t have to always have an “either-or” mindset. Sometimes it is appropriate to “do” and work alongside team members–it gives you an opportunity to identify strengths and learning gaps, to give on-the-spot feedback, to see if systems or processes are working or need improving, or to build alignment between the team’s work and organization’s mission or vision. Or perhaps you are providing training or sharing expertise. In stressful times, you may need to work alongside staff to build or maintain morale, or simply to get the work done! There are many times it may be appropriate to be a “doer” instead of delegating. In these times, keep in mind the concept of purposeful involvement. Don’t just jump in and take over the work. Make sure if you are going to be involved, that there’s another objective being achieved—maintaining morale, giving training or feedback, seeking to improve systems or processes, or creating alignment between the team’s work and the bigger picture.

Delegation Action Plan

Use a chart like the following to create an action plan:

What? To Whom? Why? Challenges/Concerns Follow-up Notes (frequency, how, etc.)

  • What will you delegate?

  • To whom will you delegate the task/assignment/project?

    • Determine who to delegate the task to—based on skill/experience level and motivation level

  • Why?

    • Area of strength for that person? Skill they are interested in developing?

  • What are potential challenges/concerns?

  • What will you follow-up look like?

    • How often will you follow-up?

    • How will you follow-up (email, face-to-face meeting, phone conversation, etc.)


*This article is based on content in the “Delegation Skills” course offered by UVA Human Resources, Talent Development. The original course was developed by Patty Marbury.


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