Image of a manager attempting to delegate to workers
5-second summary
  • Failing to delegate can increase your risk of burnout. It also shortchanges your team by denying them opportunities for professional growth.
  • Managers often don’t delegate because of limiting mindsets, such as “No one can live up to my standards,” or “It’s easier to do this myself.”
  • Use the 6-step process at the bottom of this post to overcome barriers to delegation.

Do you struggle with delegating? If so, you’re far from alone. 

When coaching leaders at all levels, I notice that when I bring up the “D” word (delegate), they start squirming in their chairs. Why? Well, a lot of them aren’t great at delegating. That means they’re missing out on the tremendous value and opportunities that delegating would provide to them and to their team members.

That’s right. When you fail to delegate, you’re not only cheating yourself, you’re cheating your team. 

What causes failure to delegate?

There are some common trends I see with leaders who are afraid to share the load with their teams. See if any of these scenarios resonate with you.

1. Concern that others won’t measure up

Let’s call our first leader Denise. Before becoming a manager, she was a standout individual contributor. But even though she now leads a team, she identifies so strongly with her past persona of super-hero individual-performer that she doesn’t know how to transition into the people-manager role. Denise is always on the verge of burnout and often appears rushed and anxious.

Her mindset: “I don’t know if I can trust other people to do the work with the quality I know I can deliver. Plus, they all seem so busy and overwhelmed already. I feel bad about giving them more work.”    

2. No time to train others

Meet Daniel. He’s been leading a team for a while, and he’s a workhorse with extremely high expectations of himself. Daniel reports to a senior leader who has a high level of trust in him and who keeps delegating more and more responsibilities his way. But Daniel does not, in turn, share the additional responsibilities with those on his team. He’s burning the midnight oil to keep up with the next-level responsibilities his leader expects of him. 

His mindset: “I don’t have time to teach others what is needed to get the work done. It’s simply easier to do myself.”

3. Can’t let go of details

Joanna truly loves her work. She has been a senior leader in many organizations and has wide technical and business expertise. She exudes confidence and others see her as the person with all the answers. Joanna has passion for the details and often gets sucked deep into project work. Because of this, she doesn’t always know when to say no, so she has frequent bouts of frustration and overwhelm.

Her mindset: “I like being the person who ‘knows everything’ and I’m genuinely interested in the details. I know I could make a broader impact if I stay at the strategic level, but I don’t know how to let go.”

What is delegation and why is it important in management?

Delegating means entrusting a responsibility or a task to another person, usually to a person who is less senior than oneself. But more than that, it’s a skill that leaders can leverage to bring greater collaboration and engagement across a team so that the highest result can be achieved. 

Delegation is important for the obvious reasons – you share the load so you’re less stressed and you can get more done – but also for some not-so-obvious reasons. It’s an incredible opportunity to develop direct reports into their next level of ability of growth and performance. More specifically:

  • Sharing key tasks gives your team members a sense that you have confidence in their abilities.
  • Allowing direct reports to tackle next-level responsibilities that align with their interests and talents gives them hope for moving up in the future, as well as the assurance that you’re invested in their career path.
  • Providing one-on-one coaching and training will allow you to deepen your relationship with each person, allowing for a more cohesive team environment.
The quiet and powerful advantage of mindful leadership

So what’s holding you back?

Mastering the art and skill of delegation starts with self-awareness. In all three of the leadership scenarios I shared above, leaders had specific mindsets that were preventing them from sharing the load and, consequently, depriving their team members of opportunities to grow. 

Each of us often hold limiting beliefs that keep us from leveraging delegation as a tool. What are yours? Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I should be able to do this all even if it means extra hours nights and weekends.” I call this the “super-hero” mentality.
  • “Asking for help is a sign of weakness. I never needed to ask for help before and you better believe I am not going to start doing that now.” This is the “always appear capable” mentality.
  • “Nobody will be able to do it like I do – the quality or speed of work will be less than what I can produce.” This the “nobody else can deliver like me” mentality.
  • “This work is too complex to give to someone else – others will make mistakes if I give this to them and I’ll have to redo the work anyway.” I call this the “too-hard for others to figure out” mentality.
  • “I don’t think there is anything I could delegate – this work all seems like work that I am meant to do and that my boss has asked me to take care of.” I call this the “my boss wants me personally to do this” mentality.
  • “I don’t want to upset others by delegating and adding to their workload because they already seem to have so much.” I call this the “protect my people to my own detriment” mentality.
  • “I don’t have time to even think about what could be delegated, let alone figure out who should do what, train them to do it, and then support them until they can own it. That would all take me time that I just don’t have anyway.” I call this the “no time to delegate” mentality.
  • “I like to do this work and don’t want to give it up. I’ve always delivered everything asked of me on my own.” I call this the “individual all-star” mentality. 

How to delegate more effectively in 6 steps

Delegation doesn’t need to make you cringe – in fact, once you get on the journey to delegating effectively, you’ll be amazed at how empowered you feel and how that creates a ripple effect of empowerment across your team.

So how do you get started?

Step 1: Open your mind.

Get past the idea that “delegation” is a bad word. Be willing to explore the power of delegation to multiply results and to shine even more as a leader, while allowing your team to shine, too.

Step 2: Define what’s holding you back.

Identify the mindsets that tend to get in your way of delegation. Write the old mindsets down so you can name your patterns.

The real reason your team won’t give you honest feedback

Step 3: Design new thoughts about delegation.

This is where you “flip the script” on your limiting mindsets.

Here are some examples:  

  • If I learn to delegate well, my team and I will deliver with greater productivity.
  • By delegating, I can share the load and reduce my overwhelm.
  • By delegating, I give others the opportunity to grow and feel the sense of moving into greater levels of responsibility.

Write down your new thinking and post it near your computer. When you find your old thinking start to take over, stop. Then, be willing to practice the new thinking so you take those next steps to delegate.

Step 4: Step back and zoom out. 

Start by taking stock of your workload and how you are spending your time. There are two simple strategies to do that. 

  • Option 1: List all of your duties in the Eisenhower Matrix (explained in more detail here). Yes, this will require you to take 15 to 20 minutes to study your workload and put your responsibilities into the four quadrants of urgent, not urgent and important, not important, but it’s time well spent. The sweet spot for delegation often resides in the urgent/not Important quadrant.
  • Option 2:  Review your calendar. As you scan through your schedule for the next few weeks, ask yourself: what truly requires me to be involved? What could I have a team member take primary responsibility for instead? See if you can identify 10 tasks that you can delegate so you can focus on more strategic aspects of your role. 

Step 5: Take stock of your team.

Remember that delegation is an opportunity to actively engage your employees. 

Determine each person’s strengths. Get their input on their experiences and what they already know how to do well.

Then, work to understand each person’s desire for growth. Get a sense of areas they’d like to get involved in so they can grow to their next level. Connect to their professional vision and see how it might intersect with opportunities for you to share work with them so they can feel like they are growing, too.

Using a tool like CliftonStrengths Assessment can help make this process easier. It may help you uncover hidden talents on your team that you could be leveraging, while allowing people to work and grow in areas they are naturally good at.

Step 6: Embrace a coaching mindset as a leader.

One of the most exciting aspects of leading a team is that, in your rise to new levels, you can also work with your teammates to rise, too. See the potential in each of your team members. Everyone has specific talents and strengths that you don’t have and don’t need to have! Assume that others are resourceful and have the ability to learn and grow.

This can have a powerful impact on the wellbeing of your team. As Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace Report states:

Collaborative goal setting ensures that employees have a voice in setting performance expectations that are fair, relevant and challenging. The process creates buy-in and helps employees define success in their roles. Accomplishing goals created with a manager feels all the more gratifying to employees because they are “our goals,” not just “my goals” or “your goals,” and this shows in their engagement … Employees who strongly can link their goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged. 

Be sure to build time into your calendar to coach, mentor, train and give feedback to your direct reports. Yes, this does mean adding something to your calendar and, in the short term, it may be energy intensive. But the long-term payoffs of getting your team members to the next level of ability to deliver on what you’ve delegated to them will have big pay-offs in the long run.

Do your team a favor and start delegating more