Delegation: The Art of Letting Go

In today’s busy business environment, managers are always looking for ways to free up time and get more done in their workday. Often, managers forget one of the best ways this can be done–delegate! Yes, letting others do what we feel only we have the ability to do is sometimes difficult. But, if one is to function at their greatest capacity, one must learn to let go. Here are a few ideas to help with the delegation process and, at the same time, create that valuable free time you need to grow your career.

Sit down with a piece of paper and list all the things you do. Break major responsibilities into as many subcategories as you can. Once you are done with this task, start reviewing the list and check all items you are comfortable letting someone on your staff do for you. If there is an item in doubt, check it anyway on this first pass. Next to each item you checked, place the name of a staff member to whom you wish to pass on the responsibility. Assess strengths and weaknesses of these individuals and their knowledge level of the task. Match the task with their talents.

If possible, develop a written description of the task requirements and review this document with the person given the task. Placing the assignment in writing greatly reduces misunderstanding by both parties. Insure that the task assigned is fully understood by asking questions following your review. Have the staff member re-state your assignment in their words to assure they have understood your instructions. You should be willing to provide some training if necessary. Don’t expect perfection the first time or that the individual will do things exactly as you might have done them. Make expectations clear but allow for some growth and learning. Perhaps there may have to be a joint effort in the beginning and you can gradually let go entirely once your comfort level grows.

Hold everyone to whom you delegate responsibilities to the same deadlines you had. If necessary, have staff provide progress reports. Email updates are a quick and easy way to do this. You might also place a reminder on your calendar to assure the tasks remains on schedule in the early delegation stages. Don’t hesitate to intervene if, at any point, you see that the task will not get done on schedule. You don’t want to miss a deadline with your boss because a staff member missed their deadline with you. This is a lose-lose situation.

It’s alright to have staff members ask questions to clarify issues. However, don’t let them ask for so much advice that you really end up doing the work yourself. Some staff members will do this to you if you are not careful. Make it clear that you are available to help but that completion of the task is now their responsibility. Make it clear that along with the responsibility goes accountability.

A follow-up to the previous point is to also provide the level of authority that goes with the assignment. Do they have the right to do the task without any input from you? Do they make the decision and keep you informed of what they did? Is approval from you necessary before a final decision is made? Do you simply want them to make a recommendation and you make the decision? These are the four levels of delegation and staff must know up front how much freedom you are comfortable giving. Always remember that the more freedom you can give, the more freedom you will have.

When performance is done properly, be sure to provide proper recognition. Everyone enjoys a little praise. When you’ve given away a task, let the person who does it well for you know how much you appreciate their efforts. A sincere thank you goes a long way.

What’s in it for you if you do start delegating more? Some benefits include improvement in staff morale, confidence, independence and professional growth. The workload is now more evenly distributed and you’ve started to utilize more of the talent pool you have at your disposal. You are also now free to concentrate on more important tasks.

Mother Teresa once said, “To keep a lamp burning, you’ve got to put oil in it.”  To paraphrase her: “To keep a company growing, you’ve got to put delegation into it.”  The final questions you should consider are, how well is your lamp burning and how much are you delegating?


Billy Arcement, MEd is a Professional Speaker, Leadership Strategist and President of The Results Group. He wrote the book, Searching for Success, now internationally published. He co-authored, Journeying on Holy Ground—Christian Strategies to Reach Your Personal, Professional, and Spiritual Destiny.   ©2012. All rights reserved. Use by permission.