The Fine Art of Delegating

Delegating is a skill - some would say a knack - for moving work off your desk and onto someone else’s.

That’s it in a nutshell.


You, Mr Manager, have too much to do. So you find a dogsbody - preferably a willing one, though an unwilling one will do, to take the mountain of paperwork that someone else delegated to you.

How do you do it?

How do you do it with a clear conscience?

How do you do it without giving the appearance that you’re shirking in your duties?

And how do you do it in a way that ensures that those to whom you give it will take responsibility for it, do it correctly and in a timely manner?


These are big questions.

Get it right, and everything will turn out well for you. Get it wrong . . .

To be successful at delegating, there are two things you must do and one thing you must not do. They can be summed up like this: What’s in it for them, and what’s in it for you? If you can find good answers to those two questions, you’re most of the way there. Most of the way.


You still have to pick the right people. You can’t simply start passing your work onto others. You have to choose the right ones. That’s something only you can do. That said, if you have good answers to the two points that we’re going to look at, then choosing the right people will be that much easier.


  1. What’s in it for them?


There’s only one point to be made here.

When you delegate work to others, they must believe - and it must be true, by the way - that if they complete the extra work satisfactorily, that doing so will be good for their careers.

You won’t give them a job for life, and so throughout their careers they’ll constantly be thinking about whether or not their current job is moving them forward in their chosen path.

If you try to give them something that they don’t believe will help them to do that, then you’ll meet with resistance. Remember, willing delegates are what you’re after. Anyone can order someone else to do extra work, but that’s not the way to get it done to the high standard that you want. Threats only work in the short term. In the long term, they backfire. Don’t forget that.

If you want people to willingly take on additional work, then they must believe that it will help them to either become more competent in their current job or better still - make them more likely to get promoted, whether it’s in your organisation or someone else’s.

Now it could be that you have to go down a few steps in the organisational food chain to find someone for whom this will be true. That’s okay. The goal is not only to get it off your desk, but to use it as a means of helping someone else to become more qualified.

If you can do that, then that’s all you have to be concerned with in terms of “what’s in it for them”.



    2. What’s in it for you?


There are two parts here. Both are essential. If you omit one, you’ll choose failure over success. It’s as simple as that.

The first thing is that you have to hold people accountable for the work that you’ve delegated to them. And so what’s in it for you is that while you may be ultimately responsible, you’re sharing the largest part of it with someone else.


How do you hold others accountable?

You decide in advance what success looks like. You spell it out, and you agree it with the person to whom you delegate the work. You also give him / her the authority to carry it out. If that person has to come to you to get permission every five minutes, then you haven’t delegated anything.

Remember, you are passing this work on so that you don’t have to do it. That means that all the resources that would be available to you to do that work need to be made available to the person that you delegate it to. If you’re unwilling to delegate that, then you might as well do the job yourself. Otherwise, it’s like telling someone to hit six targets with five bullets.

It’s unfair, to say the least, and you will be seen to be unfair. That alone will persuade others not to accept extra work from you. Why? Because people will feel that you’re setting them up to fail. No one likes that.

The second part is that you have to let go of the work.

Now that may sound like common sense, however, you’ve probably noticed that common sense is often something that we see is missing in others, but not in ourselves.


Micromanagement is a problem. If it wasn’t, then we wouldn’t have a name for it. Micromanagers have a way of delegating something in theory only. When they see the person to whom they’ve “delegated” a task start to make a mistake, they stand over him or her and point it out. When they see someone doing the work in a way that is different from the way they would do it, they’re critical of that. They may take the project back, let it sit on their desks for a while, and then delegate it again. It might be to the same or even a different person. This may come as a surprise to you, but people get fed up with that in a hurry.

If they’ve been given something extra to do, and they know that it will enhance their career potential, they’ll resent your interference.  And if you keep it up, they will give up - not because they can’t do it, but because you won’t let them. They will reason, quite correctly, that it makes more sense and will be a lot easier for all concerned if you do it yourself.

And the thing is that when you have to delegate work to people who’d rather not do it at all, especially if it’s because you are constantly meddling, then that’s when your problems really begin; because now, whether you want to or not, you have to stay on top of things. Otherwise, the extra work you’ve dished out might just get set aside in favour of other things.


Remember empowerment?

Many years ago there was a cartoon in which a manager was saying to a subordinate: “We want you to feel empowered. We just don’t want you to make any decisions”.

Delegating means empowering. It means letting other people - the ones to whom you have delegated the work - make decisions. It also means that you’re not second-guessing their decisions.


Do you know why?

It’s because they know and you know that they are accountable. But when you keep interfering in what they’re doing, you’re moving the accountability back onto your shoulders. So that’s all you have to do to be good at delegating.

Keep in mind what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for you. Make yourself available for help when it’s needed. Otherwise, mind your own business. That’s why you delegated the work in the first place, remember?



If you would like to be more effective at delegation – get some one to send me an email… Only joking, best you email personally here!

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