Why Leaders Don’t Delegate — And What To Do About It

Jul 27, 2018 3 Min Read

EVERYONE knows that a leader can’t possibly complete all the tasks required by their department themselves, but this doesn’t stop many from trying.

A Harvard Business Review study titled Why aren’t you delegating? found that almost 50% of the companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ delegation skills – and most of them didn’t offer training on how to delegate.

Too often, experienced leaders don’t delegate to others. They falsely believe that they can do a task much more quickly themselves, rather than taking the time to explain to their staff what they want to be done.

While this may be true at first, if a task needs to be repeated, then the loss of time adds up quickly and too often a leader is losing time doing tasks that are below their pay grade.

According to a Fast Company article by Carson Tate, the most common obstacle to delegating is psychological – the need to do everything yourself.

This can occur when a new leader is starting with staff and they are struggling to shift from doing to delegating or when an experienced leader is a perfectionist and doesn’t trust their people to get the task done the right way.

Read: Making The Most Of Your Team As A Manager

Delegate correctly

The most common mistake a leader makes when delegating is that they delegate the wrong way.

They often just tell a staff member to do something without providing any context or information around expectations or how they want it completed.

The result is that the task is not completed to the level that is required, or in the timeframe needed, and the leader stops delegating.

The unfortunate by-product of this situation is that after a while, staff are not being developed and they realise that with a little bit of pushback, their managers will do it themselves.

After a while, the leader also starts to get frustrated because of the increased workload.

Read: How Mutual Leadership Helps High-Performing Teams Avoid Meetings And Increase Productivity

The delegation hack

Leaders need to start using a delegation hack. A simple way to delegate is to start by sharing the task and working with your direct report to create a one-page plan together.

Leaders need to start by asking their staff what steps they believe need to be taken to accomplish the task – not telling them!

Once the staff member starts sharing ideas, the leader can also contribute to and guide their staff member towards the best solution.

After identifying the specific steps to be taken, the leader can next ask their staff what order they think the steps should be and coach them on the best sequence and the reasons why.

This changes the entire dynamic of the relationship. This approach increases trust and creates a sense of engagement that is lacking in many workplaces.

For larger tasks, the leader can also ask their staff member to identify a couple of check-in meetings at several stages to see if there is anything else the leader can do to assist or just to make sure the staff is still on track.

By quickly taking a photo of the plan on a digital device, a record is quickly captured for future reference.

Bringing it together

Over time, leaders can fast-track this delegation hack by getting their people to develop their one-page plan independently, and then seek out advice from the leader before they execute the plan.

This allows the leader to share any additional insights or encouragement – and starts shifting this project management skill set to their people.

By taking 10 to 15 minutes to have a one-on-one with their people, leaders can hack the way they delegate in a way that empowers their people, lifts performance and saves time.


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Scott is a highly sought-after international speaker and mentor who has worked with thousands of leaders around the world, helping them become better leaders by fast-tracking their thinking and approach with people. Scott is also the author of four books, his most recent is titled Leadership Hacks.

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