Delegation in Management - A Foundational Management Skill

Effective Delegation is a cornerstone manager skill. When it is done correctly, delegation in management:

  • Grows the team's skills and capabilities,
  • Increases employee engagement,
  • Increases employee productivity and of course,
  • Helps managers to manage their workloads.

But there is a wrong way and a right way to delegate. Do work delegation the wrong way and employees won't take ownership for the results. Even worse, you'll probably end up having to redo it yourself (known as reverse delegation). But do work delegation right and you will get a better job done in less time at a lower cost. This article will show you the top 5 delegation mistakes to avoid...

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Delegation Mistake #1: Not Delegating Enough

The number one delegation mistake managers make is not delegating enough. A never-ending to-do list doesn’t just weigh on your mind, the real cost is neglecting your most important priorities.

If you find yourself working long hours - staying late to finish or taking work home with you - then you will know what I am talking about. You’re also not alone.

But often managers hold onto work because of bad past experiences delegating tasks.

The problem is that these negative experiences mean that managers tend to hold on to work instead of delegating them. But bad delegation experiences aren't because of something wrong with the delegation concept. Bad experiences come from bad technique and a lack of practice, not from delegating enough.

Want to delegate more? Improve your delegation skills, until delegating becomes second nature.

Don’t know what to delegate? Download worksheet: How to choose what to delegate.

Delegation Mistake #2: Not Delegating the Tough Stuff

We all know the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It’s a great pithy saying for managers to commiserate about how bad they think their employees are. But actually it’s a myth. Because great managers know how to use delegation as a management tool to produce better work than they could produce themselves.

Managers are more experienced but:

  • You aren’t the expert at everything,
  • You don’t have the time to give everything the care and attention it deserves and
  • Let’s be real, some parts of your job just aren’t that appealing to you

When you’ve got :

  • A tough job on your hands or
  • Something that is going to suck up a lot of your time or
  • Something that you plain don’t want to do

...then it’s time to call in some help from your employees.

Delegation Mistake #3: Thinking Delegation is Good for the Manager but Bad for the Employee

Less assertive bosses don’t like to delegate because they think their employees won’t like them for giving them extra work. But great bosses know that delegation can be used as a motivational tool.

You see, delegate in the right way and:

  • Your employees have a chance to learn and grow,
  • Your employees get “mini” promotions that increase their status,
  • Your employees get a chance to do work that they’re good at,
  • Your employees get a chance to build their networks,
  • Your employees get a chance to solve problems and more

Remember a task that is boring to you, can be an exciting development opportunity for one of your employees. Ethical management means motivating your employees by working on a win-win basis.

Delegation Mistake #4: Not Avoiding Reverse Delegation

It happens all the time. An employee runs into a problem that was their responsibility to solve. Instead of trying to come up with a solution to the problem, they come to you for help. Ken Blanchard in his book, “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” calls this the moment your employee is attempting to get the monkey off their back and onto yours. (I can’t help but smiling to myself at the mental image this creates.)

How many time has this happened to you? And when the going get’s tough do you fold and take the work back? Reverse delegation is one of the most common delegation mistakes.

Delegation is an investment in the future. To get the results, you need to push through the dip. Instead of taking back the work, better bosses encourage their directs to think problems through themselves. Approach the problem with the mindset that this is a learning opportunity.

Tip: You can use Active Listening skills to start coaching your directs to solve their own problems.

Delegation Mistake #5: Not Following a Best Practice Delegation Process

When you delegate results will vary. Delegating will go wrong. Sometimes you end up having to pick up the pieces.

Is there something wrong with your employee? Is there something wrong with you? Some people seem to be natural leaders who are great at inspiring others to produce results. Others have to work on it. You see delegating is a manager skill and it’s one of those soft skills they don’t teach you in school. But just like any other skill, it’s possible to learn best practice and get better at it.

The best way to delegation success is to follow a tried and tested delegation process. That’s why I made the short, online delegation training  course: Delegation Essentials. This course will provide you with proven, easy-to-implement and practical actions steps for:

  • Identifying what to delegate,
  • How to make the delegation - right down to the right words to use, and,
  • How to avoid reverse delegation.

Next Steps:

If delegating was easy then we’d all be doing it, getting great results. But it’s not, managing is hard and they don’t teach you how to delegate in school. Advancing in your career requires that you learn the essential boss skills so you can be a better boss. Delegating is one of these skills.


What's your experience with delegation in management? Do you have any questions, comments or tips? Please share in the comments below.