How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (and Why It’s Important)


Why Is It Important to Delegate?

As a leader, delegating is important because you can’t—and shouldn’t—do everything yourself. Delegating empowers your team, builds trust, and assists with professional development. And for leaders, it helps you learn how to identify who is best suited to tackle tasks or projects.

Of course, delegating tasks can lighten your workload, but according to Dr. Scott Williams, professor of management at Wright State University, delegating does much more than just get stuff off your plate.

For one, the people who work for you will be able to develop new skills and gain knowledge, which prepares them for more responsibility in the future.

“Delegation can also be a clear sign that you respect your subordinates’ abilities and that you trust their discretion,” Williams writes. “Employees who feel that they are trusted and respected tend to have a higher level of commitment to their work, their organization, and, especially, their managers.”

Why Managers Fail to Delegate

While the benefits of delegating are obvious and plentiful, many managers still fail to delegate effectively. The reality is that there are several myths and misconceptions about delegating that can make some leaders wary of handing off work to others.

They think delegating is just passing off work to someone else

“Managers often mistake delegation for passing off work,” writes Harvey Mackay, founder of MackayMitchell Envelope Co. “So they don’t do it, and they wind up wasting their time as well as the company’s time and resources.”

Delegation can be a chance to make workloads more manageable, but more than that, it can provide really valuable teaching opportunities for your employees, Mackay notes.

Delegation is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of a strong leader.

They think they can do it better

One study found that two psychological processes make people more reluctant to delegate work:

  • the self-enhancement effect, which is a manager’s tendency to evaluate a work product more highly the more involved he/she is in its production
  • the faith in supervision effect, which is when people have a tendency to think work performed under the control of a supervisor is better than work performed without as much supervision

Watch for those biases in your work. They could be a sign that you need to focus on building more trust within your team.

They’re nervous about letting go

Letting go can be challenging, but accepting that you can’t do everything yourself is important.

“Giving up being ‘the go-to expert’ takes tremendous confidence and perspective even in the healthiest environments,” says Carol Walker, president of Prepared to Lead—a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders.

Remind yourself that your team wants to do good work and be successful just like you do. If your employees succeed, you succeed.

“I’ve learned that people will seldom let you down if they understand that your destiny is in their hands—and vice versa,” says Mackay.

They’re worried delegating will take longer than just doing the work

Another common barrier to delegation is that it can take longer to teach someone else how to do a task than to just do it yourself.

And while that might be true the first time you delegate the task, over time, the amount of time you have to dedicate to that task decreases because you won’t have to be involved with it at all.

Imagine that it will take you eight hours to walk someone through a task you have to complete every week. Typically, it takes you an hour to complete the task.

Once eight weeks have passed after you’ve trained someone else to do the task for you, you’ll have recouped the time you spent on training and now have an extra hour each week.

With that extra hour, you can focus on more important work, such as strategy, coaching, or development—the things leaders are supposed to do.

How to Determine When Delegating is Appropriate

Another common barrier to delegation is that leaders aren’t sure which tasks they should and shouldn’t be delegating. In every manager’s workload—particularly new managers—there are likely tasks that you should do and tasks that you should delegate.

Career and business strategist Jenny Blake recommends conducting an audit of your tasks using the rules below to find out which of your tasks should be delegated:

  • Tiny: Tiny tasks are little things that only take a small amount of time to complete but add up over time. These might be things an assistant could do: scheduling meetings, booking flights for business trips, or deleting spam/marketing emails from your inbox.
  • Tedious: Tedious tasks are mindless tasks, such as copying and pasting lead information from your marketing automation tool to your CRM. Tedious tasks require little skill and can be easily delegated.
  • Time-consuming: Time-consuming tasks are opportunities to break work into smaller chunks and delegate portions of the work to others. If you perform a task regularly that takes a lot of time, look for opportunities to hand off segments of that task to others.
  • Teachable: Do you have tasks on your plate that you could easily teach someone else to complete? If a task is entirely teachable—if it does not require expertise that only you can provide—it’s a worthwhile candidate for delegation.
  • Terrible at: Maybe you have no design skills, so it takes you six times as long to create graphics for your blog posts as it would a professional designer. It’s better to delegate that task to someone who’s more equipped to do the work quickly and well.
  • Time-sensitive: Maybe it would be better if you handled all of the tasks belonging to a time-sensitive project, but if you won’t have time to complete it doing it all on your own, it’s time to find ways to delegate parts of that task to other members of your team.

Additionally, you may need to consider delegating tasks you love doing but are no longer part of your job.

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