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Managers Who Delegate Effectively Get More Done

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As a manager, are you bogged down by trying to do your own work and others’ work, too? Have you thought about ways to delegate effectively buy just can’t get past the obstacles to do it? Do you have that nagging sense that you could be working smarter, not harder?

You are not alone. This exact scenario is tying up supervisors and managers in every sector and functional area. You are absolutely right in thinking that there must be a better way.

Why We Don’t Delegate & Why We Really Should

One of the primary obstacles to delegating is the misguided attempt so many make to be a Servant Leader.

Though well-intentioned, these managers and supervisors have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Servant Leader construct. Being a Servant Leader does NOT mean serving others by doing their work. It doesn’t mean rolling up your sleeves and lightening their load.

The original research and writings of Robert K. Greenleaf first presented the Servant Leadership theory in 1970. This theory postulated that the most noble form of service is to help others develop and grow in their own stature and power.

When managers deprive employees of development opportunities, they’re doing exactly the opposite of what true Servant Leaders do.

One of the most obvious and most rewarding development opportunities in any organization is the delegation of work that challenges employees and helps them gain new skills and perspectives. If your aim is to serve the people who report to you, delegation is a skill you need – STAT.

There are 10 other reasons commonly offered in our delegating workshops as justifications for not delegating. Which of these common reasons keep you from delegating more work more often?

  • I’m protecting others from additional tasks or responsibilities.

  • I lack confidence in others’ abilities to do the work.

  • It takes longer to delegate it than to just do it myself.

  • I like my work and don’t want to give it away.

  • There’s job security in being the only one who can do certain things here.

  • I don’t know how to delegate.

  • There’s no one to delegate to because we’re short-staffed.

  • I don’t want to be accountable for work I didn’t do myself.

  • I’m not sure I can do a good enough job of explaining it.

  • I’ve been disappointed in the past when I tried to delegate something.

No matter what your reasons are, there are clear and compelling benefits in delegating, including:

  • Effective delegation develops people who are ultimately more fulfilled and productive.

  • Managers become more fulfilled and productive themselves when they learn to count on their staffs and are freed up to attend to more strategic issues.

  • Supervisors that effectively delegate free up a great deal of their own time, help their direct reports to cultivate expertise, and also develop their own leadership skills that are critical for problem solving, goal attainment and learning.

  • Managers who delegate well also Improve team effectiveness and efficiency AND increase motivation and fulfillment.

  • When delegating is routine and part of employee development, retention and productivity rates are higher. Employees want growth opportunities and will be more engaged when they get those opportunities.

Figures on an assembly lineThe choice is yours. Will you cling to your reason(s) for not delegating? Or will you push through to get the benefits that come with delegating?

Good choice! All you need now are the steps for effective delegation and a reset to approach delegating for the express purpose of development. Keep reading!

To Delegate Effectively, Use These 8 Simple Steps

There’s more to it than foisting some random responsibility on someone else. If you’ve ever delegated and been disappointed by the outcome, you probably missed at least one of these eight essential steps.

STEP 1: Selecting a delegate for an assignment.

Be deliberate and specific in selecting the right person for each assignment. This need not be someone who can already do the work. It needs to be someone who is performing well with their current tasks. It should be someone with an interest in or aptitude for the new assignment.

Don’t make the mistake of asking for volunteers when the task is going to be a stretch. You may not get a volunteer, and you’ll then be in the bad position of having made the work look undesirable. Or you might get a volunteer who isn’t well-suited to the work.

Similarly, don’t throw it out to the group in a generalized way like “Someone needs to…” because there’s no accountability in that set-up.

STEP 2: Granting sufficient authority to delegate.

Once you’ve selected the person you’ll delegate the work to, let go. The authority for how to do the work and when to do the work should travel with the work.

At the onset, you may have some requirements and deadlines. If the work is bound by compliance, policies, or regulations, share those as non-negotiables.

Otherwise, let the person who does the work make decisions about the right way to go about getting the job done. You might be surprised – their ways might be even better than yours.

STEP 3: Setting clear and specific goals, protocols.

Take the time, right at the start, to set clear expectations for anything that’s non-negotiable. Convey the desired outcomes and define what success looks like.

Share examples, good and bad, to set the standard for quality, quantity, and any aspect of the work that will be measured or evaluated by others.

Explain the rationale for any specifics. Who’s affected in the workflow and how? What are others needing or expecting from this task? What protocols are necessary and why?

STEP 4: Enabling the delegate to achieve the goals.

When you delegate new work, take into account that the old work may need to be adjusted. Is there a task who can domino delegate? For example, a manager delegates to a senior accountant and helps the senior accountant delegate something else to a junior accountant.

It’s unreasonable to expect employees to constantly take on more without taking something off their plates. Enabling your delegate includes allowing time to learn and master the new task.

Enablement also includes providing access to information and others. If resources are needed, provide them. Don’t withhold anything that you needed when doing the task.

STEP 5: Being a resource to support the delegate.

Without micro-managing, you’ll need to remain involved while the new delegate is learning how to do this task. Be available to answer questions, review work, and encourage progress.

All too often, managers delegate an undesirable or time-consuming task with a “good riddance” feeling that causes them to resist staying involved as a resource. That’s a surefire recipe for getting the work back AND having to clean up a few messes that could’ve been prevented.

STEP 6: Assessing the delegate’s performance.

Without micro-managing, you’ll also want to set up some interim checks on the performance of the employee who took on this new assignment. Don’t wait until the end of the task. If there are multiple steps, check along the way to catch mistakes or misunderstandings early.

As you’re assessing the performance, be sure to notice and recognize the achievements. These will include efforts made, learning and growth, and concrete results along the way.

STEP 7: Giving recognition for contributions made.

There’s another aspect to the recognition. It’s not just for the task and the learning associated with it. The delegate also deserves recognition for the long-tail benefits. By taking on a new task, they’ve contributed to the team and to you.

Be sure to recognize the impact being made. What additional or higher-level work are you now able to focus on? What additional team are you able to spend coaching and supporting other team members? Don’t neglect this connecting of the dots so people can see just how important their extra efforts are!

STEP 8: Maintaining responsibility for outcomes.

As the manager, you are responsible for the outcomes produced by your team. There is never a time when it’s appropriate to deflect that responsibility. If the delegate you chose did not deliver, you don’t get to say “Well, I gave it to Ava, and she didn’t do it right.”


If you gave the work to Ava and she didn’t do it right, that’s YOUR responsibility. You failed to follow through on these 8 Steps of Effective Delegation. Ava needed YOU to guide her to the outcomes needed.

At the same time, you also don’t get to hoard the credit. When Ava succeeds, be sure to share the credit. “I delegated this to Ava, and she nailed it” is still going to reflect well on you, the manager who effectively delegated and helped an employee grow.

Though implied throughout this post, we should also take a closer look at this notion of delegating with the express purpose of developing people.

The Paradigm Shift: Delegating for Development

Delegating for the wrong reasons will backfire.

If you’re delegating to unload work you don’t want to do, people will pick up on that. They’ll resent being the dumping ground. They’ll resist the added work.

If you’re delegating in an attempt to dodge responsibility for ambiguous assignments or high-profile work that’s fraught with high-risk, people will notice that, too. They’ll feel like you’re throwing them under the bus. They’ll find ways to take you down with them.

If you’re delegating without purpose and without clear objectives (just because you’re supposed to, for example), that will also be apparent. People will question your motives and become suspicious. They’ll find ways to deflect work that doesn’t make sense for them to do.

On the other hand, when the purpose of your delegation is to develop people, they’ll react very differently. This may seem counter-intuitive, but research emphatically demonstrates that people are happier at work and higher performing when offered a challenge that is a slight stretch beyond their current skill level.

Delegating for development challenges people, engages them, supports their growth, and creates strong bonds between employees and managers.

Instead of asking yourself “How am I going to get this done?” ask these replacement questions to identify opportunities to delegate for development:

  • Who can already do this or quickly learn to do this?

  • Who needs to learn how to do this so they can prepare for future opportunities?

  • Who will benefit from practicing this?

  • Who might have some new ideas about this?

  • Who would do this if I weren’t able to be here?

  • Who has some interest in or aptitude for this kind of work?

  • Who’s stagnating a little and could benefit from a challenge?

Don’t wait for new work to come along. Ask these questions about the recurring, routine tasks you already do. For each of those tasks, ask these seven questions with the aim of identifying ways that you can delegate for development. Then do it, using the eight steps above.

If you’d like to learn more about delegating for development, join this free and highly interactive workshop offered quarterly on People First Leadership Academy.

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