Delegating Successfully

December 31, 2014

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for a manager to know how to delegate and utilize this indispensable tool. When you delegate properly, you can focus less on performing tasks and more on managing and leading. Delegating is not doling out. Delegation is taking something that you currently do and giving it to one of your employees for the purpose of developing their skills and making your organization more effective. Doling out is saying to an employee, “I am too busy, you have to take some of the workload.”

The Delegation Steps

  1. Start off by analyzing which of your current tasks, projects, or jobs you could possibly delegate. Think about what goes into getting the job done, how long it takes, what resources are needed, and so forth.
  2. Decide to whom you can delegate the task. Consider who would be most motivated by the opportunity, who has the time, who either has the skill level or could acquire the skills, and who has asked for additional responsibilities.
  3. Once you make up your mind, sit down with the employee and describe as many of the details as possible. Also point out the benefits of taking on the delegation. Obviously, if the person is new or inexperienced, you must spend more time with him or her and provide more details.
  4. Come to agreement on the goal of the task and the timeline to be followed. This is vital and should be in writing. A follow-up email that states the specific outcome that was agreed to and the completion date will cover this. You may want to have the team member who is taking on the task compose the email so you can verify that he or she is clear on the understanding. A complex task may involve multiple review dates and interim outcomes. The importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. Delegating successfully requires absolute goal clarity.
  5. Finally, discuss how you are going to monitor the employee’s progress.

The Perfectionism Trap

Since the most common reason managers do not delegate is their uncertainty of the outcome, the issue of perfectionism needs to be addressed. Many people mistakenly think perfectionism is an attribute. It is not. High personal standards are an attribute. That is not the same as perfectionism.

Perfectionism is seeing anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Consider this. First, perfection almost never exists. Flaws can nearly always be found in any product or outcome. Second, insisting on an outcome that you see as perfect, even though it is not, means the person you are delegating to has no discretion in how she goes about the task.

If you start the delegation process by telling the person being assigned the task exactly what she has to deliver down to the finest detail, she is not likely to be very excited about taking on the task. You are effectively making her into a robot and in the process demotivating her. You are also forgoing the benefit of her experience, perspective, and creativity—which are all different from yours.

Being a successful delegator requires you to accept and value the fact that the person taking on the task will do it differently than you. Think of it as agreeing on the date and time the person will arrive at a distant destination but allowing her to select her own course. Now obviously, if based on your experience, you are aware of routes to the destination that are troublesome, let her know. But trust her judgment to select a course that will work and is likely different from the one you would choose. If you do not trust her judgment on this, she is the wrong person for the task.

Delegation can be a great friend to you, your team, and the organization. It is vital to your developing as a manager. Not delegating well will significantly hamper your advancement. Start thinking about what you can delegate today, tomorrow, or sometime in the future. Learn to delegate and then do it. Both you and your team members will benefit from it.

This post is drawn from the 6th edition of the management classic The First-Time Manager (AMACOM) which has sold more than 250,000 copies and is available in English, French, and Chinese editions.

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Delegating is an important responsibility for all managers. Enhance your management skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

JIM McCORMICK is the former Chief Operating Officer of the fifth largest architectural firm in the United States. A full time speaker and organizational consultant, he works with organizations to help them identify and incentivize their optimum risk posture. More information is available at:

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    Yes, Perfection is definitely a trap. Managers often need to wrestle with the “I-can-do-it-better” syndrome. It’s a fine line between smothering a staff member with too many expectations and giving them enough leeway to discover how to do something on their own. Here are the steps I follow when delegating particular tasks:
    –I discuss the task with the staff member, telling them about the task and why I’d like them to take it on
    –I still do the task the next time it needs to be done, so the staff member can see what I do (I find it very useful to follow along initially step-by-step with a teacher when I’m learning something; my staff members seem to also)
    –After that, I ask the staff member to perform the task, telling them I’m there to answer any questions, etc.
    –I do like to doublecheck the work the first time or two, providing any constructive criticism I can and — IMPORTANT! — withholding my own perfectionist tendences! Knowing what to let go and what to correct is part of one’s judgment as a manager.

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