Conquer Delegation or Else

DELEGATION- one of the most feared 10 letter words in all of the workplace. Why do people prefer to be overloaded, stressed, and in some cases stalled in their careers as opposed to embracing the concept of DELEGATION? Maybe it’s that, “nobody can complete the task as well as I can.” Or, “I don’t have the time to delegate effectively.”  If you are good at your job, people will want more from you; they will look for more of your time and assistance. But this can leave you overburdened with work and unhappy with your job as a result.

I have good news. There is a solution to your problems. You have an opportunity that will allow you to get some of the time back in your work day without letting people down. Delegation is an art that has the potential to boost your career path to a higher level. I believe any manager who can grasp the following eight principles of delegation will be poised to become a more effective leader.

Step 1: Why to delegate

Ask the question in reverse: Why don’t we choose to delegate? Some think that sharing their skills with co-workers might jeopardize their job. Others say that they lack the time to teach others. Or, “nobody can do the work the way that I do.” In fact, the reasons not to delegate are often part of the very reasons to delegate. For example, if you choose not to share your skills in order to keep a sense of job security, you will find yourself consumed with the same work from day to day. In that case, how can you advance? Delegation allows individuals to utilize their best skills on a regular basis.  Not only does delegation allow us to grow, it also helps those around us grow—and that helps the organization grow. We delegate because it keeps everyone involved headed in the right direction.

Step 2: What to delegate

I believe that $100 an hour leaders shouldn’t be doing $10 an hour work. The point is, as you achieve higher levels of leadership responsibilities, you may face a common predicament: holding on to too many of the duties of your previous position. All leaders must learn to value their time differently as they ascend the corporate ladder. Once you decide to delegate, make sure your “what” is communicated clearly, as well as the expected outcome or result. And when your expectations are known, you can then delegate the responsibility and the authority to proceed.

Step 3: When to delegate

After determining what tasks to delegate, the next step is to know when.  Ask yourself these three key questions: 1) Is there someone else who has the knowledge and the skills to handle this task? 2) Is there enough time to allow for delegation or is this something that needs to be completed immediately? 3) Does this task require my specific attention or is it something I need to be directly accountable for? Answering these questions will help you decide when it is time to delegate and which tasks are better suited to be completed on your own. Remember, the sooner you get the task off your plate and delegate to others, the sooner action may start. That means more time to complete the assignment, and that benefits everyone.

Step 4: Who to delegate to

You have made the decision to delegate a particular task. Now, to whom do you delegate? Consider the following:  1) Does this person have the skill, knowledge and experience needed to complete the task in a high quality and timely manner? 2) Are they reliable? 3) Keeping in mind his or her work load, is it a reasonable request? Deciding who to delegate to is as critical as knowing when to delegate. And be sure that proper cross-training has been facilitated to ensure ongoing execution.

Step 5: Importance of two-way communication

Delegation will only succeed if we implement a solid foundation of two-way communication. The members of your team must be able to ask questions, to speak up for clarification. As the person delegating the task, you need confirmation that your team member understands exactly what is expected of them. To achieve the highest possible result, two-way communication is essential to this process. Agree up front about how the associate will keep the manager informed about their progress. No surprises is the goal.

Step 6: Accountability

Measuring the effectiveness and timeliness in which the task has been completed—i.e. results—is the only way to ensure that delegation is successful. Always begin by making your expectations clear, but avoid telling people exactly how they should do things. Simply communicate what to do and establish a deadline, and they may surprise you with their ingenuity—provided that you have the right people in the right seats. If the pace in your area or the volume of work are significant, you will be more successful if you track all the assignments you have delegated to others. Depending on shifting priorities, you may occasionally need to adjust timelines.

Step 7: Power of systems

Effective delegation requires systems, which are the blueprint to help resolve tasks in an efficient manner.  And while every organization has hundreds of them, most do a poor job of documentation. As a result, employees are left to remember every step of every task to get the work done as assigned. Properly documented, systems leave no room for doubt or question. McDonald’s is a prime example of an organization with great systems: step-by-step instructions ensure each task is finished properly, from the way the fries are made to how the hamburgers are wrapped. Having great systems in your practice of delegating will help produce great results, reduce errors and eliminate anxiety for your staff.

Step 8: Expected results

“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together. Delegating tasks to others is an integral part of getting things done efficiently on behalf of the organization. The sooner you embrace and conquer the principles of delegation, the better results you will produce in the end.”  –James Penney

Results happen when your associates deliver. Certain personality types process information differently, so be sure to adjust your communication style to match theirs.


“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”

–Andrew Carnegie


Delegation is a learnable skill for any leader. With powerful leadership training and coaching, you can manage your time more effectively and help staff members grow.  At the same time, you will help the organization thrive. How many members of your management team are masters of delegation? Are you ready to teach a workshop on delegation?  By following these eight principles, and with a little practice, soon you will be.


John Lankford

John Lankford was recognized as the 2007-2010 Associate Business Advisor of the Year in North America and brings proven executive experience and best practices to select companies every year. He served 18 years at the Executive Education Center at Ford Motor Company and is former Senior Director of Ascension Health Learning Institute. John has developed top leaders around the world in partnership with the University of Michigan Business School, the Center for Creative Leadership, Comcast University and GE University, to name a few. His business expertise has been tapped by prominent business media such as the New York Times, CBS and Dbusiness magazine and has been a syndicated business columnist. He is the author of The Answer is Leadership and Superstar for life…Career Transitions. John’s keynote speaking has landed him on the elite team that trains and certifies the new Executive Coaches joining the worldwide coaching community. John is also former Chief Executive Officer of the Innisbrook Leadership Institute. Lankford can be reached at [email protected] or call (888) 730-1950

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