Why Learning To Delegate Is Critical To Your Success

Could you write down what your job is“You are the biggest delegator I have,” my boss said to me during my annual review.

Usually, I would take this as a compliment. Not this time. In fact, this was the worst review I ever had in my career.

I thought I was doing really good work turning the division around. Order had been restored, and we were building momentum.

The negative review was because of the past performance of the division, not the improvement.

“Why are you blaming me for mess I inherited?” I asked. “Shouldn’t we be reviewing the progress?”

My boss didn’t see it that way. That’s when he added the words about my delegation tactics.

True to his words, my boss didn’t delegate much to me. I could easily see why he didn’t agree with what I was doing.

I could see firsthand the effects his lack of delegation was having on me. I was bored and underutilized. My motivation was dropping by the day.

I could also see why my boss acted the way he did. He had spent most of his career at a large company dominated by politics.

Even though he was very capable, he had developed a lot of bad habits. One of his bad habits was not successfully delegating.

Think about it: why did you hire the people if you are not going to delegate responsibilities to them?

Fortunately, my boss left the company and my situation improved.

Delegation is one of the most misunderstood and misused skills in a manager’s bag of tricks.

Improperly used, delegation can wreak havoc in a company.

Used well, delegation can extend your abilities and motivate your team like nothing else.

Let’s start by talking about the three improper uses of delegation:

  1. Delegating too little.
  2. Delegating too much.
  3. Delegating the wrong things.

Delegating too little.

This was my boss’ problem. If you want to demotivate your team, don't delegate anything to them.

Trust me, this works really well.

Good employees want more to do. They want to contribute, and they want to grow their skill set.

When you keep all the work for yourself, you are not using your team to their fullest. You also aren't taking advantage of the skills they bring to the table, so you're not achieving your best possible performance.

Many first time managers suffer from the problem of not delegating.

Delegating too much.

Years ago, I worked for someone who loved to delegate everything he could to anyone he could. I loved it because I was early in my career and it gave me the opportunity to grow.

However, there were other people being given responsibilities they simply couldn't carry out. These people floundered.

They lost confidence in themselves because they didn’t have the skills to succeed.

No one wins in this situation. The company doesn’t improve its results, and the employees don’t grow.   In fact, the employees regress.

Delegating the wrong things to the wrong people

Later in my career, I was working as a general manager. There was another general manager in the company named Arthur (not his real name).

Arthur was really smart and good at his job. Arthur also had the amazing ability to never take on more responsibility and continue climbing the corporate ladder.

The company was going through a reorganization, and the company wanted Arthur to run a new area of the company. The next thing I knew, many of Arthur’s old responsibilities (the ones he didn’t like) were given to another general manager.

The general manager was already overloaded. He was the wrong person to take on extra responsibilities.

The right thing to do was keep the responsibilities with Arthur. He had plenty of bandwidth to manage his existing responsibilities and the new responsibilities.

The general manager fought back and said no to the extra responsibilities. Management listened and kept the responsibilites with Arthur.

Delegation done right: delegating the right things to the right people.

There is no one size fits all rule for successfully delegating. I wish there was.

However, there are some really good pieces of advice you can use as a guide:


A.  Know your team. Successful delegation involves knowing who can stretch, where they can stretch, and how much bandwidth they have to stretch. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team members is the key.

B.  Hold onto the responsibilities only you can do.   The great thing about successfully delegating is it allows you to do what you and only you can do best.

For example, I held onto the strategic marketing responsibilities when I started my company because I was the only person capable of doing the job.

C.  Be really careful delegating tasks that could make or break the company. I have a friend who is working at a company where the CEO is delegating closing a key deal to someone not capable of closing the deal.

Worse yet, the CEO knows this person is likely to fail!

I feel really badly for my friend.

D.  Audit the progress. You can’t just wash your hands of the task just because you delegated the task. Successful delegation involves checking in and providing the necessary guidance and coaching. But sometimes you have to…

E.  Let your employees fail. I am not saying you want to destroy someone’s career. I am saying that sometimes the best way to learn is through failure. It’s a delicate balance. But…

F.  Step in before an employee breaks something catastrophic. Let’s say you delegate a make-or-break task.   You have an obligation to the company and the employee to step in sooner rather than later.

You need to closely audit progress to ensure success. This might mean daily meetings.

You are often better off giving more guidance than needed and a make-or-break situation is just that time.

G.  Encourage your employees to ask for help. Many people think they can’t ask for help when you delegate a task.

You need to work really hard to create an environment where asking for help is seen as a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.

Asking for help does not mean employees should ask you to solve the problem for them. Asking for help does mean the employee has tried to solve the problem, can tell you the ideas they have already tried, and the employee is coming to you at an appropriate time in the process.

This means the employee needs to ask for help before it is too late.

Welcome delegation if you are an employee

I worked for someone years ago who delegated a large part of his job to me. He was the company’s Chief Operating Officer and he was running a division of the company at the same time.

He delegated to me the responsibility for running the division.

It was great!

I did the work and I learned a ton, and he was free to do other important things for the company.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

Everyone involved was a winner: The company won, my boss won, and I won too.

The lesson I learned was to always try and say yes when someone asks you to take on more responsibility. Saying yes to delegation helped me succeed and it can help you succeed too.

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