Brené Brown said it best in Dare to Lead, “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.”
As a manager, you’ve taken on more responsibility, and the reality is you can’t do everything yourself (even if you want to). To best fulfill your role, you need to prioritize the tasks and projects you can dedicate your time and energy to, which means you might need to clear your plate and make room for higher-level work.
Delegating work allows you to lean into your role as a manager while developing a strong team and helping them build their careers. Learning to delegate effectively early on prepares you to manage larger teams and is a crucial management skill to adopt and practice.
But the art of delegation isn’t easy. It takes practice to delegate effectively and develop the potential in people and processes. In this post, you’ll learn:
- What effective delegation looks like
- The importance of delegation
- How to know it’s time to delegate (and what to do)
- 4 benefits of delegating
- 4 delegation mistakes to avoid
- 5 tips to become a better delegator
What does effective delegation look like?
In simple terms, delegation is entrusting tasks or responsibilities to others, typically team members. Managers might reassign work to other team members because it’s more relevant to that individual’s interest, skills, or current workstreams. Or a manager may need to distribute responsibilities evenly amongst the team, providing opportunities to take on special projects and participate in tasks outside the typical day-to-day.
Delegating is more than handing off tasks and hoping assignees do them well. Effective delegation requires a successful transfer of responsibility for tasks or projects from one person to another—in this case, from managers to their employees.
According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), leaders who delegate successfully do the following:
- Pick the right person
- Are clear about what the person is responsible for and their autonomy to do it
- Describe the desired results in detail
- Ensure team members have the resources they need
- Establish checkpoints and milestones
- Encourage new ways to accomplish goals
- Create a motivating environment—knowing when to coach, step in, step back, and celebrate
- Tolerate risks and mistakes and use them as learning opportunities
How do I know it’s time to delegate responsibly?
Effective delegation doesn’t always come naturally; it can be challenging to identify when you should start delegating tasks and what that might look like. Below are three warning signs to watch for and four steps to help you prepare to delegate work.
3 warning signs to watch for
1. There’s never enough time in your day, and you miss deadlines.
It might be time to delegate tasks if you never get through your to-do list and feel like you’re constantly drowning. Gallup's research suggests that managers are 50% more likely to strongly agree that they “have too much work to do” and report worse work-life balance and physical well-being than individual contributors.
It’s easy for managers to lack time in their schedules given their responsibilities, but delegation can help you gain time back in your day and maintain a more balanced workload. If you don’t clearly understand how you’re spending your time, try Clockwise’s end-of-week reports to get a sense of your time in meetings and how much Focus Time you have left for deep work.
2. Someone else is better suited for the work.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and if your weaknesses are eating up significant portions of your time and you could delegate the work instead—what are you waiting for? If someone else can complete the task and do it efficiently, it can be beneficial to let go of the work so you can focus on what you’re great at.
To delegate tasks to the right people, you must develop a solid understanding of their strengths. Consider incorporating strength-based activities into your team-building events, and discuss skills and interests regularly in 1:1s.
3. Team members are eager and ready to learn.
As a manager, you play a critical role in developing your team members and helping them grow their careers. If members of your team express that they’re eager and ready to learn, they likely have the capacity and bandwidth to do so, which means you can delegate tasks and projects to them to help them develop their skills.
Double down on nurturing each team member’s learning desires and identify opportunities for them. Always discuss how delegated work aligns with the potential for promotions or raises to ensure a clear understanding of how the work will help them grow.
Do I have tasks to delegate?
If you’ve identified one or more warning signs above or feel inclined to start delegating, follow these four steps.
1. Make a list of your tasks and responsibilities.
First things first: you need to understand what’s on your plate and determine which items you can and can’t delegate. Jot down your responsibilities on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Categorize your tasks and responsibilities, and indicate which ones you must keep. Due dates will also help identify which tasks you need to assign first. If you want to categorize your tasks and responsibilities on a scale, try this delegation authority gauge from Vital Learning.
2. For tasks you can delegate, complete the following exercise.
The exercise below will help you understand if delegating your identified tasks will truly be beneficial. There are no right or wrong answers. Try to answer these questions honestly before proceeding:
- Can I identify a team member with the right strengths and skills to delegate this task to?
- Does this task or project align well with one of my team member’s priorities?
- Does this provide an opportunity for someone to develop their skills?
- Do I have time to delegate effectively and provide contextual information and training to help this person do this task?
- Do we have time to backtrack and do rework (if necessary)?
- Would this opportunity benefit my team member and me?
- Will delegating this specific task enable me to prioritize higher-level work?
3. Make a plan for the tasks you will delegate.
Now that you know which tasks you plan to delegate to your team members, work on preparing the information they need to set them up for success. This includes the due date, contextual documents, tools and access to systems if applicable, the priority of the task, and your expectations of what the outcome should look like. Remember, it’s your responsibility to provide guidance, and you should never assume your team member will figure it out without proper expectations and support.
4. It’s time to delegate!
Prepare the asks of your team member (or multiple team members if you delegate more than one task). Give them everything they need to complete the work, be there to support them along the way, and get out of their way so they can do the job.
4 benefits of delegating
Not only is delegating work essential to do as a leader, but it benefits managers and their team members when done effectively. Here are four benefits of effective delegation.
1. Maximizes potential
Delegating maximizes the potential and productivity of all team members. It allows managers to grow into strategic roles while helping their teams develop skills and work on projects outside their typical responsibilities. Depending on the tasks a manager delegates, you may be able to incorporate them into professional development plans and enable career growth.
2. Builds trust
Knowing when to delegate to other members of your team is a great way to become a better leader and build trust with your team. Assigning tasks to your team members is a great way to let them know that you trust them (so long as you don’t micromanage them throughout the process), which can earn their trust.
3. Reduces stress and burnout
While this may come as no surprise, Gallup’s research suggests managers are more likely to experience burnout than the teams they manage. Five culprits that exacerbate manager burnout include unclear expectations, heavy workload, job stress, less focus on strengths, and performance reviews. According to Fortune, the pandemic created more challenges for middle managers.
Managers play a crucial role in the success of teams within an organization, and they need to find avenues to manage stress and burnout to best support teams. Delegation is one of many actions that can help.
4. Enables growth
In many instances, companies grow, and teams grow in size with them. As a team grows, it becomes more critical for the manager to learn how to delegate so they can focus on the big picture and take care of their team members. As more members join your team, you’ll need to make more room in your schedule for 1:1s and strategic initiatives, so start developing your delegation skills early.
4 delegation mistakes to avoid
Effective delegation takes time and practice, so don’t expect to nail it on the first or second try. Give yourself time and grace to develop your delegation skills. I asked managers with varying management experience what mistakes they made when they first began delegating in their roles. Here are the honest delegation mistakes they made and what they learned so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
1. Lack of clear expectations
Brandon Schroth, Founder of Reporter Outreach and manager for over five years, said his biggest mistake when he first began delegating was not properly clarifying what he expected from the individual. “This resulted in a lot of wasted time and confusion on both our parts,” Schroth said.
To avoid making this mistake, Schroth recommends providing clear expectations, specifying timelines and deadlines, outlining the desired outcome of the task, and providing positive and constructive feedback so team members can approve.
2. Too much micromanagement
Jonathan Saeidian, Founder/CEO of Brenton Way and manager for almost nine years, made the mistake of micromanaging tasks he delegated, providing step-by-step instructions on how to complete tasks. “This approach quickly led to frustration on both sides. My time members felt stifled and resentful, while I became bogged down in details that weren’t really my responsibility,” Saeidian said.
The key to successful delegation? Saeidian said, “Let go of the need to control every aspect of the task. Instead, it’s important to provide clear expectations and trust your team members to do their jobs.”
3. Expecting perfection
Yang Zhang, CEO of Plasmic, struggled with expecting perfection from team members when delegating tasks. “I found it difficult to delegate tasks to others instead of doing them myself. I would expect perfection from my employees and felt frustrated when they didn’t complete their tasks as effectively as I thought I could do them. This takes adjustment and time to get used to, but all business leaders need to get used to trusting their employees to get a job done,” Zhang said.
Zhang’s advice for business leaders: Accept that you can’t run an entire business and complete all the work on your own. It’s a team effort.
4. Pointing out mistakes instead of offering constructive feedback
Diana Stepanova, a first-time manager at Monitask, shared a fresh experience learning how to delegate. “I used to be a control freak when delegating tasks as a communications manager. I would be too specific about what I wanted and how I wanted it done, and as a result, my team would walk on eggshells around me. They were scared to make any mistakes because they knew I would quickly point them out,” Stepanova said.
While pointing out mistakes can create learning opportunities, helping your team feel comfortable receiving feedback is important. Stepanova recommends being lenient but still following up with team members and offering constructive feedback.
5 tips to improve your delegation skills
Become a better delegator by spending time refining your delegation skills. Follow these five tips to improve your delegation process.
1. Delegate the right tasks to the right people.
You shouldn’t delegate every task or project on your to-do list, and not every team member has the best skillset to complete the work you delegate. Be mindful of these considerations and understand which tasks you must complete (like performance reviews) and which tasks you can delegate (like a process improvement project).
The best way to ensure you’re delegating tasks to the right team members is to build strong relationships with your team. Get to know your people so you understand their strengths and interests.
2. Be crystal clear on your ask.
When you hand off work, it’s necessary to clarify what you are asking your team member to do and how much authority they have to get the job done. Avoid leaving room for interpretation of the ask by being as straightforward as possible around what you need, when you need it, and what supporting materials are available. Be a guide, not a micromanager.
3. Paint a picture of the expected outcomes.
What outcome are you trying to achieve with this task? What would the future look like if your team member completed this task and achieved the desired outcome? Don’t simply hand off a task with a deadline, be descriptive about what the end result should be and why it matters. Painting a picture of the expected outcome can help employees ensure they’re taking the steps they need to get to the finish line described.
4. Create an encouraging environment.
An environment filled with open dialogue and encouragement creates a psychologically safe atmosphere where team members feel comfortable taking on new tasks. Follow an open-door policy where your team can ask questions without fear of criticism. Don’t shame your team members when they fail or complete a task in a way that’s different from how you would do it. Celebrate your wins as a team and give credit and recognition where it’s due.
5. Learn to let go.
Delegating can be difficult for managers, no matter how much management experience you have. Placing important work into someone else’s hands requires letting go and relinquishing control, which may take time and practice before it feels more comfortable. Embrace uniqueness and creativity and understand that your team members won’t complete tasks the same way you do, and that’s okay.
Go forth and delegate
Learning to delegate tasks will make you a more effective leader and manager. Delegation is more than assigning tasks to team members and hoping they can handle them. If you never have enough time, can identify someone better suited for the work, or your team members are willing and eager to learn—it’s time for you to start delegating. Ensure you set clear expectations and avoid constructive feedback. Avoid micromanaging and expecting perfectionism. Delegate to the right people and create an encouraging environment to see the best results. If you need a clear understanding of how you’re spending your time in your management role, Clockwise can help.