Why is delegating so hard? Let me count the ways

I am not the best at delegating. And judging by the volume of “how-to” articles on this subject in journals like HBR, I’m not alone. Many executives and leaders fall down when it comes to delegating—and ultimately it can harm their career and organization.

It seems that the very traits that make us successful—up to a point—also prevent us from letting go of even the most menial assignments and trusting others to do a good job on our behalf.


Why is it so hard for us to hand off work to others? Photo from leadershipfreak.wordpress.com.

Think about it: You’ve risen to the top of your organization by dint of hard work and tenacity. You’ve proven that you not only “know your stuff” but can “get the job done.” How likely are you to give that up, especially if you feel that others around you are incapable of producing at the level you or your bosses expect?

In reviewing my own management experiences and watching others, I’ve identified four “delegation blockers” that I find common among managers. How many of these are you guilty of?

  • “No time to train my staff. I need to do it myself this time. When there’s some downtime, I’ll show someone else how to do it.”
  • “No one else knows this like I do, so it’s just easier for me to do it.”
  • “You gotta be kidding! These people are bozos. No way I’m going to give them something as important as this to work on. They’ll just mess it up, and then I’ll have to fix it.”
  • “Where’s my value if I give all the ‘good stuff’ to my staff to work on?”

At the core of these excuses are some rather vain assumptions: “I am important and valuable; others around me are not. In fact, they are downright incompetent, whereas I am perfect.”

This kind of thinking does not lend itself to enlightened leadership. An enlightened leader understands one of the great paradoxes of life: The more you give up, the more you gain. People will never meet your expectations if you don’t treat them as you would expect to be treated.

In watching good leaders and natural delegators, I’ve observed a few best practices. Try some of these and see what happens:

1. Take the time to teach. Delegators understand the importance of learning. They are willing to invest in training and ensure their staff has the tools to do the job right. Control freaks take a dim view of professional development and often see it as a waste of time.

2. Trust. Trust has a funny way of bringing out the best in people. Think about the first time you were entrusted to do something, whether it was driving a car by yourself, preparing a report or leading a meeting. Didn’t you work extra hard to prove yourself? Give your staff a chance to do the same.

3. Communicate clearly. Make sure the person to whom you are delegating has a clear sense of your expectations—the scope of work, deadlines and deliverables.

4. Do not micro-manage. Give your staff some elbow room. Create reasonable expectations, establish sensible benchmarks, then leave them alone to do their job.

5. Build up people in meetings. Take advantage of meetings to recognize and reward good work.

6. Give credit freely. Praise others whenever you have the opportunity. It does wonders for morale and self-esteem.

This entry was posted in Careers, Leadership, Management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why is delegating so hard? Let me count the ways

  1. Pam Jones says:

    Well said and right on point! I would just underscore that once a task is delegated, let it go and get out of the way. I have observed more than a few bosses who delegate but cannot allow the employee to sink or swim on their own.

Leave a Reply to Jay Morris Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s