How to Delegate

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Whether you're a corporate executive, retail manager, or stay at home parent, delegating is a critical skill in personal effectiveness. But for a variety of reasons, it can be difficult to pull off. This article will help you address some of those reasons, and delegate without being seen as a tyrannical pain.


  1. Set your ego aside. A big mental road block to delegation is "If you want it done right, do it yourself." The thing is, you're not the only person in the world who can do it right. You're probably the only person who can do it right at this very moment, but if you take the time to train someone, they can probably do it right, too. And (don't gasp) they might even do it faster or better than you, and this is something you need to not only accept, but invite.
  2. Stop waiting for people to volunteer. If you've got martyr syndrome, you're probably overwhelmed, and you wonder why people don't ever offer to help. And when they do, maybe you turn them down, just to be polite, and quietly wonder why they didn't insist. After all, if you saw them in your position, you'd help them in a heartbeat and you wouldn't take no for an answer! The fact is, however, that not everyone is as sensitive as you are. Actually, many people are quite oblivious to what others are going through, and there's not much you can do to change them. Let go of any frustration you might have over people not offering a helping hand; remember that it's ultimately your job to communicate your needs.
  3. Ask and you shall receive. Lots of folks are uncomfortable with asking for help. Maybe you feel guilty, like you're burdening others; or you feel shameful, because you think (for some reason) that you're supposed be able to handle everything on your own; or you just feel proud of your struggle, and see it as a badge of honor--proof that you're noble human being (another manifestation of martyr syndrome). If you see asking for help as some form of weakness, you need to get over that, because it's the other way around: trying to do everything yourself is a weakness.
  4. Delegate the objective, not the procedure.[1] This is the key to not becoming a nightmare of a micro-manager. Set clear standards for what kind of results you're looking for, and show the person how you do it, but tell them that they can do it any way they want, as long as it's on time. And give them enough time not only to learn, but also to experiment and innovate. Don't train them like a robot; train them like a human being--someone who can adapt and improve.
  5. Allocate resources necessary to complete the task. You may have resources available that are necessary to complete the task but the person given the task may not be able to access them. Things like password protected data, specialized equipment. Don't forget that the person is likely time bound too. What work will they set aside or delegate in order to complete the task.
  6. Be patient. The person to whom you delegate will make mistakes. It's part of the learning process. Plan for it. Don't delegate a task assuming the person will execute it perfectly until they have a proven track record. If they don't perform under such unrealistic circumstances, that's your fault, not theirs. When you train someone to do something, you're making an investment. At first, it'll slow you down, but in the long run, it'll increase productivity by leaps and bounds--if you've approached the whole thing with a positive and realistic attitude.
  7. Implement backup plans and stand ready to jump in if things go wrong. Know what will happen if a benchmark or deadline is missed. Things come up all the time - we're all only human, and technology fails sometimes. Let your delegate trust in the fact that, if something comes up, you will understand and help him or her to meet that deadline - don't just throw them under the bus at the first whiff of trouble. If your delegate fears that s/he will be blamed, far more time will be spent in covering his or her own rear than in actually completing the task.
  8. Recognize your helper when it counts. Delegating tasks to someone else is necessary if you are to take on more and more responsibility. It's counterproductive when you delegate the task, your helper works hard, and then you take all the credit. Recognize and praise the efforts of others on your behalf.


  • Create a delegation wish-list of everything you would like to get off your plate and on to someone else's. Don't edit anything in your wish list. Get it all out there on paper and decide later what is and isn't workable. You'll be amazed at how many things you are doing yourself that someone could help you with.


  • Don't dump unpleasant tasks and pretend you're doing them a favor. If there isn't a genuine benefit to them, don't pretend there is. This is best done after completing one or more tasks as a team. It will allow you to be able to honestly say, "Walt, this is a crap job, but I really need your help," or "I promise that if there's any positive credit to be taken from this, I'll make sure you get it, Laurie. I know it's not a great assignment, but it needs to get done, and I know I can trust you to do it." There are any number of unpleasant, thankless jobs that need to be done; the way to get them done is to make sure that when the plum assignments are available, you don't forget your good right hand person.

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