Why do leaders delegate?

Have you ever noticed that great leaders are also excellent delegators? Delegation saves time, develops and motivates people, and makes an organization more productive. Therefore, it is fair to say that this is one of the most critical skills for any leader or manager to acquire. For this reason, I encourage every leader to become a master delegator.

On the surface this seems like an easy task. Give your work to someone else; sounds nice, doesn’t it? So why are so many leaders so reluctant to delegate? And when they do, why do so many leaders delegate so poorly?

The problem is that many leaders have acquired the skill of delegation through on-the-job learning. There is no course in school and only minimal reference to delegation in textbooks at school. Delegation is not easy and is a process that has a sequence of steps. Like any process, if you miss a step, it does not work properly


1. Defining What to Delegate

There are really three reasons to delegate work: to better control our use of time, to build our people, or to motivate our people. So the first question you will need to answer is: why are you delegating? When looking through these three lenses, we usually find a reason to assign most of the work on our desks to others. The higher you are in the organization, the more your role should be growing and developing the organization and less “doing.” Delegation is the primary tool!


2. Selecting the Individual or Team

Too often leaders go to the same people over and over again. They get too comfortable with specific individuals or teams. This is usually a mistake as it demotivates other team members in the organization and may even compromise the performance of your “A” team. That “A” team usually depends on support from the rest of the organization to get things done. Silos form in the organization, and this prevents the entire organization from coming together to its fullest potential. While I think we should always give our most important projects to our best players, we need to involve and delegate to the entire team at some point. With each person, consider why you are delegating (motivation, growth, or time management) a task, and match the appropriate tasks to that person’s capabilities.

3. Assess Appropriate Level of Delegation

Typically, leaders delegate using the same style for every person on their team and this is a mistake. The level of delegation should be adjusted based on the task and the person being delegated to. Delegation is not just telling people what to do and expecting them to do it. There are many different degrees of supervision and involvement required of the person who is delegating the task. The more experienced and reliable the other person is, the more freedom you can give. The more critical the task, the more cautious you need to be about extending a lot of freedom, especially if the company’s financial future or reputation is on the line.

4. Communicate Tasks In Specific Terms

This is where most delegation fails. Many leaders and managers do not do a good job of expressing what they want. People are not mind-readers. Many hours have been wasted doing re-work because leaders failed to explain what they wanted up front. If you want something done a specific way, tell them. If you are not clear about what you want, take the time to brainstorm with your colleague before they start working. Employees find it frustrating and get demotivated when they feel like lab rats or are spinning their wheels.

5. State Measurable Results

Explain how a task fits into the overall organizational picture, describe the measurable results you are looking for, and let them know how you will rate their performance.

6. Agree on Deadlines

The deadline is the most underappreciated part of delegation. Too many leaders give people tasks without asking what else they have on their “to do” list. This is a motivation killer. Not only is it disrespectful to the recipient, it is disrespectful to anyone who is depending on the person you just delegated to. Most people are trained to never say “no.” They have been wired to say “yes,” even when they know they already have too much on their plate. Often, the delegator already knows this, but chooses to take the position of “not my problem,” which in the long run destroys trust and respect for the delegator and decreases employee morale, organizational productivity, and profitability. When you delegate a task, you must sit with the person you are delegating to and make sure that realistic deadlines are being created. It is your job as the delegator to help your people be successful and not set them up for failure. If you are delegating to someone who has a history of over-committing, it is important to help reconcile commitments to make sure that the most important things get done first.

7. Follow-up and Feedback

It is essential that you have a feedback system in place so that you know that things are on track. Provide support should your delegatee need help in getting the task accomplished. It is essential to let the person know how they are doing and whether they did a good job. In the end, you should take the blame for failure and pass on the credit for success.

Delegation is one of the most important tasks as a leader. When done correctly, it develops your succession, increases your personal productivity, and motivates your people. Many leaders develop excuses not to delegate that include: they can do things faster themselves; they like doing things themselves; their people are not ready. These excuses and others all have short-term benefits but long-term adverse consequences. However, the investment in delegation is usually worth the positive long-term benefits.

Find out how a business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at 305.722.7213 or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

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