Businessmen Manager Delegation Center Delegate

“If I take the time to explain what I need, they still won’t do it the way that I do. It’s just easier to do it myself.”

How often have you or a colleague made such a statement? While you may believe that taking the time to explain is inefficient, take a moment to consider what really is the best use of your time. Time spent doing a delegable task is a missed opportunity, because it is time that could be used for more complex and strategic responsibilities. If this opportunity cost doesn’t get your attention, maybe findings from Gallup, Northwestern University and the Conference Board will.

Gallup studied the talent profiles and business performance of 143 CEOs on the Inc. 500 list. CEOs with high “Delegator talent” (i.e., knowing what their employees do best and helping them take responsibility for tasks at which they can excel) showed an average three-year growth rate 112 percentage points greater than CEOs with low Delegator talent. CEOs with high Delegator talent also generated 33 percent greater revenue than those with low levels of the talent. Furthermore, companies led by those with high Delegator talent created 23 percent more jobs over three years than those with low levels of Delegator talent.

At Northwestern, Thomas Hubbard quantified the returns of delegation by looking at the legal profession, where partners at law firms delegate work to associates. According to Hubbard, delegating work to associates enabled partners to earn at least 20 percent more than they would otherwise. Top attorneys, who have the most skill to leverage, earned at least 50 percent more.

According to the Conference Board, 78 percent of all employees in major corporations believe that their boss, manager or superior with whom they have a reporting relationship routinely does work that would be more effectively done by the employees. Most managers agree with these employees. In fact, 66 percent of managers say they would like to “increase their use of delegation as a time management and personnel development tool.”

Warning Signs and Obstacles

How do you know if you are not delegating enough? Keep an eye out for these direct and subtle warning signs:

  • A boss, direct report, colleague or customer tells you.
  • You work long hours while your staff works regular hours.
  • You feel your team doesn’t take ownership of projects (because you won’t let them).
  • You start to experience burnout.

What prevents leaders from delegating? Here are the most common reasons I found in STEM-based organizations:

  • Perfectionism: They feel it’s easier to do everything themselves to ensure it meets their high standards.
  • Insufficient self-confidence: They don’t want to be outdone by their direct reports or colleagues.
  • Conflicted mindset: They struggle to reconcile how overseeing the work of others demonstrates as much value as actually doing the work themselves.
  • Resource constraints: They don’t have anyone that can take on the work.

Delegation Tactics

If you discover you suffer from a delegation deficit, try these tactics:

Separate what should be done by you vs. designees. Keep your achievement drive in check. Make sure you truly spend your time on responsibilities that only you can perform. Typically, these are more complex and strategic in nature. Tasks others could do are ripe for delegation.

Identify interests, skillsets and bandwidths. For each delegable task, determine the best designees based on the desire to take on something new along with the capabilities and capacity to do so. Be sure to explain what the responsibility is and why it’s important to help motivate designees with the impact they can have.

Establish boundaries but not the path. Clarify the time frame, desired outcome and available resources for a given task. Agree on measures of success to gauge progress. Then let designees figure out the best method to accomplish the task.

Review for refinement. Check in periodically to see how they’re doing against the measures of success and provide coaching when it’s appropriate. Keep in mind that you want to enhance their proficiency, confidence and sense of empowerment. So, your coaching is really feedback and guidance about work in progress instead of laying out exactly what to do.

Recognize their way. Upon successful completion of the task, reward designees in the manner that will be the most meaningful for them. For some, this is public recognition. For others, it could be private words of praise or the opportunity to handle similar tasks in the future.

Shift the “doer” mindset. If you are someone who struggles with overseeing the work instead of doing the work, you need to adjust your perspective. Shift your perception of value from doing the work to helping others do the work. View it is as increasing your impact based on a multiplier effect. In other words, you can have a greater impact in your organization by getting more work done through others than you can alone.

Use “3T” alternatives. If you don’t have anyone to whom you can delegate, rely on the three “Ts” to make responsibilities more manageable:

  • Temporary designee: Get someone who can help in the short term while you find or develop someone else who can be a long-term resource.
  • Technology: Use software, devices and processes to help you work more efficiently.
  • Time: Spread work out over a longer period to give yourself more breathing room.

Delegation can be incredibly beneficial to you as a leader. You just need to make it a consistent part of how you operate on a daily basis.

Related posts:

What I’m Not Going to Do


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Delegation, Max Pixel)