Delegation as a leadership tool

Delegate now

There is little doubt that that the immediate future is going to challenge business leaders in every aspect of their practice. Getting the best out of everyone in any business is going to be essential if the business is going to thrive in a post Covid-19 world. Delivering excellence with and through people requires outstanding leadership and performance-oriented followership. Understanding how to create the right culture, one which creates a meaningful shared endeavour, which engages team members will be critical. Being able to articulate purpose, evoke team spirit and pride in the efforts of the team, recognising individual strengths and working to an agreed set of values and promoting a sense of belonging, are all important factors when seeking high performance. The effective use of delegation is a key leadership tool that enables the growth and development of all involved, including the person delegating.   

Assuming you have recruited and retained brilliant people, then it makes absolute sense to let them be brilliant. Delegation can unlock the potential within an organisation if it is done properly.

In the 1990s delegation underwent a crisis of confidence. Managers were intent on progressing as quickly as possible up the corporate ladder, working 12-hour days rather than delegating and risking others sharing the glory. In the corporate cut and thrust, delegation appeared to be a sign of weakness.

The 2000s saw a shift in attitudes. No longer was delegation an occasional managerial indulgence. Instead, it had become a necessity. With organisations becoming flatter and hierarchies disappearing, managers now have a far wider span of control than ever before. In this environment, delegation is vital. The trouble is that delegation is like driving a car. No one believes they are a poor delegator.

Being a Good delegator is hard work and requires substantial confidence and faith in the process. Managers, after all, are usually delegating tasks which they are accomplished at carrying out, to less experienced people.

Delegating is being prepared to trust people to do a task and achieve results without your interference. It is easier said than done. Managers who make delegation work for them are those who have eliminated their fears about the process. They do not delegate and then worry that the task will not be done well enough and they will be blamed or have to sort the task out afterwards, themselves.

They have confidence in their own position and are not fearful that the person will do a better job than them and undermine their position or authority. They also make time to delegate properly. Initially, delegation does involve committing time, but there are substantial time savings to be had in the future.

The role of managers is changing from controlling and planning to coaching, leading and acting as a resource.

Delegation practice

There are really only three ways to make better use of your time:

  1. Stop doing lower priority jobs and concentrate on the things that matter.
  2. Get more effective at what you do by establishing a distraction-free work routine.
  3. Delegate more.

The ability to get things done through effective delegation is a cornerstone of good self-management. It is also an essential part of getting the best out of your people. Understanding a few basic concepts makes delegation easier.

Why delegate?

Be clear why you should delegate.

  • To give you more time for more important activities.
  • To develop and motivate your people.
  • To make use of other people’s specialist skills.
  • To ensure an even spread of work across your team.
  • To do things quicker by concurrent activity.

Guidelines for effective delegation

Wherever possible, plan your delegation well in advance, and delegate early. It is preferable to have three weeks’ warning of a deadline, rather than three days. When planning to delegate, think about what, how and to whom you will delegate.

Ensure that the subordinate understands exactly what you expect. Whenever possible gain his/her agreement and commitment to your proposal. Be prepared to invest time in the early stages to explain, demonstrate and coach.

Longer-term delegation benefits greatly from review/follow up sessions, which have been pre-booked in the diary. If you agree what is to be achieved by each review you will have an excellent opportunity to:

  • Keep a finger on the pulse – and redirect progress if necessary.
  • Pool the best of new ideas and approaches.
  • Give praise and recognition.
  • Maintain focus on the job at hand.

This not only gives a greater sense of commitment, motivation and achievement, it also develops others and frees up more of your time.

Be available for help when needed but do not hover. Most people hover because they fear they will lose track of their delegated task. This can easily be cured by establishing the review meetings at regular intervals.

Many of the problems of delegation are to do with insecurity, losing that technical feel, subordinates understanding the job better than ourselves.

Remember that as a manager the nature of your work will change. You are no longer required to be the technical expert. You are required to achieve your objectives through others by making the best use of your team. Many people find this transition difficult. If you cannot make the change, then management may not be for you. You may be more effective and happier being the person actually doing the job.

Why people do not delegate

When we consider the benefits of delegation, it is surprising that many people find delegation difficult. Why is this?

  • Unable or unwilling to let go
  • Lack of faith in subordinates’ abilities
  • Lack of confidence in themselves
  • Fear that subordinates will perform better
  • Belief that it is faster to do it themselves
  • Perfectionism – “Only I can do this properly.”
  • Need to be liked by subordinates – unwilling to impose on them
  • Like to give the impression of being busy, overworked or indispensable
  • Enjoy doing the job – “getting my hands dirty.”
  • Lack of people training
  • Difficult or aggressive subordinates

What to delegate

  •  Routine jobs, together with attendant authority and power to make decisions
  • Functions which make you overspecialise
  • Jobs that others can do better, and probably more cheaply too
  • Work that will create variety for a subordinate – job enrichment Work that will develop a subordinate

What not to delegate

  • Setting up teams or team objectives
  • Communicating decisions, objectives and achievements
  • Discipline of subordinate’s colleagues
  • Confidential, security and policy matters restricted to your level
  • Accountability for the task
  • New tasks without guidance or training

Recognising and dealing with barriers

As a manager, you may be more efficient at many tasks than your staff. However, if you try to do everything you will inevitably find yourself overburdened. You will not have time to spend on the higher level tasks that only you can do, and your staff will never become proficient if they are not given the opportunity to learn and perform more tasks.

If staff members appear to be working to full capacity, how can you delegate tasks without overburdening them? One solution is to keep back tasks and try to do them yourself. Another approach is to make employees analyse their own use of time and free capacity for more work. It is important not to allow the overburdening argument to result in overwork for yourself.

The delegation process involves common management skills that delegators should develop, including controlling and reviewing. The challenge for managers with limited experience of delegation is to master the more complex aspects of the process, such as attaining an effective leadership style. Delegation is a self-teaching activity, you develop and perfect skills through the process itself, and your confidence and abilities increase the more you delegate.

Delegation involves the loss of direct control, and this loss is a potential barrier to the delegation process. When delegating, the manager passes on responsibility for completion of the tasks to the chosen delegatee – but the delegator retains overall control by appointing the right person, having a clear idea of how the task should progress, and exchanging regular feedback.

In order to deal with these fears, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the task suitable for delegation?
  • Is the delegatee competent to perform the task?
  • Will I brief them fully and correctly?
  • Will I give them the right backup, authority and resources?
  • If the answers are positive, then there is nothing to fear and the delegated task should succeed.

Insecure managers who do not take advantage of delegation under utilise their staff and actually endanger their own security. The use of delegation, far from being a threat to a manager’s position at work, actually enhances performance and therefore increases job security. Many top managers have noticeably clear desks, they concentrate on a small number of priority tasks, and delegate the rest.

The bad delegator believes that there is only one way to tackle a particular task. This leads to very restrictive briefings that give the delegatee little opportunity for using their initiative. Resist any urge to interfere more than necessary, since this will only create more work and worry for you, thus defeating the object of the delegation.

An overworked manager, with a disorganised and overloaded schedule is his/her own worst enemy. It is too easy to create a vicious circle. You do not delegate enough because you lack the time to explain or monitor the task that should be delegated, therefore you are always busy doing tasks that should have been delegated – which means you lack the time to explain the tasks that should be delegated, and so on. Organise your schedule to ensure you have enough time available to plan and manage a delegation properly, including writing an effective brief and the monitoring of your delegatees.

A manager must have complete confidence in the delegatee’s ability to do the task, and delegatees should feel that their managers are consistent and fair in their approach. Subordinates should also feel assured about their manager’s integrity, competence and loyalty. On both sides, this trust is dependent upon good performance. Maintain trust by showing respect to your delegatee and by giving honest and constructive feedback during the delegation.


“We each have time for anything – but not for everything” has never been truer than it is now. The skilled manager of time is one who puts greatest effort into the most valuable activities on a regular basis.

When discussing priorities, the challenge is to differentiate between importance and urgency. The following matrix looks at the interrelationship between the two:


Reactive tasks

You will note that those activities in quadrant H1 are easy to concentrate on. Their presence in that quadrant suggests an imminent deadline with much riding on success. A certain amount of our work will have to take place in H1.

L1 is also a quadrant that is relatively easy to spend time in. We all know how intrusive people and telephones can be – and how disruptive such distractions are to our concentration levels and output. However, they are a fact of business life that will be with us always. The sensible time manager is the one who controls L1 activities whilst recognising the value of remaining flexible and accessible. There is limited scope for Time Planning in both H1 and L1. Because they are urgent, action must be taken NOW. This often forces us to be wasteful in the methods, materials and people we use. Delegation is difficult and rarely developmental in these circumstances.

Proactive tasks

Quadrant H2 is the point where much that is most valuable in our work starts out. Projects should invariably begin as quadrant H2 activities.

Because of the lack of imminent deadlines work can be delayed without any immediate effect. This makes it an attractive option to delay H2 tasks when faced with too much to do in the time available. However, H2 tasks that are left today frequently become H1 tasks tomorrow as deadlines approach. At this point success increasingly becomes a matter of luck and compromise is almost inevitable.

Quadrant L2 is the quadrant of routine maintenance. It is often good habits of planning and administration in this area that ensure the correct balance of activity within the other three. Yet it is frequently this quadrant that gets lost in the rush and bustle.

Priorities and a proactive focus

In any job there will always be a certain amount that must fall into quadrants H1 and L1. Although this is reactive work, it is important in that it provides last minute flexibility.

In all jobs there will also be proactive tasks outlined in quadrants H2 and L2. Even in the most reactive environment, just coping with crises and panics rarely merits special recognition. This is reserved for those who achieve this and use spare time to create a more effective environment by improving the system. This can create greater amounts of control and reduced numbers of crises – which in turn frees up more time.


Identifying priorities is not always straightforward but must be done if time is to be used effectively.

The challenge in working to the priorities that you have identified is to do what is important even when faced with many things that are urgent.

Remember what is most important is not necessarily the thing that shouts the loudest. Quadrant H2 may be silent but it contains much that, if done, will prevent the crisis of tomorrow.

Delegate early any tasks that can be done by someone else.


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