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4 steps to better delegation

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

🙋 I connected a little too much with the post below, shared by @Havanagypsy: "My toxic trait is not letting anyone else clean because it's not clean unless I clean it. ...And then getting angry when nobody helps me clean."

Maybe I'm not alone in this. What about when it really matters?

Outside of cleaning and chores, delegation is a challenge many people struggle with.

At work, this is especially true with new leaders. The shift from doing the work to leading those who do the work is a big one.

"Getting things done" looks different for individuals and leaders. Leaders: you can and should delegate - it develops people and let’s you focus on your leadership and management tasks. Delegation builds high performing people and teams.

Sounds like a win / win / win. So what’s the problem? Why do so many people struggle with delegation?

What stops us from delegating?

There can be a lot of reasons / excuses that people give not to delegate. Heard any of these reasons before? Maybe you’ve used them yourself.


☐ a) No-one can do it as well as I can.

☐ b) I can’t trust anyone.

☐ c) It’s my responsibility.

☐ d) It takes too long to explain.

☐ e) It’s quicker to do it myself.

☐ f) I’ve been let down too often.

☐ g) I like doing it.

☐ h) People expect me to do everything.

☐ i) I have more flexibility if I do things myself.

☐ j) I work better on my own.

☐ k) No-one has any spare time.

☐ l) I prefer to make the decisions.

☐ m) I like to keep control.

☐ n) I haven’t got time to keep chasing people.

☐ o) It’s more bother than it’s worth.

☐ p) I can’t afford a mistake.

☐ q) I’ll be blamed for any mistakes.

☐ r) I like to keep my hand in.

☐ s) I don’t know how to delegate.

☐ t) I want to be liked.

This is not trying to minimise the

This is not to downplay the very real pressures of your workplace. But you can’t do everything. And you shouldn't.

I think a big problem can be when leaders take too much of an all-or-nothing approach to delegation. And delegating at that level requires a great deal of mutual trust. But not every task should be delegated this way.

Delegation isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. You provide less and less guidance and provide more freedom as appropriate. That happens on a person by person and task by task basis.

Accountability can’t be delegated

Just to be clear, there’s a difference between responsibility and accountability—and you never delegate your accountability.

As a leader you’re always accountable for what happens in your team. Delegation may mean taking risks, so it’s important you lower the risks without devaluing the person.

How can you do that? Here’s the four-step process we suggest: task, person, level, conversation.

But first, the pre-delegation steps | 'The Givens'

If you’re at the delegation step, you've likely done the following already:

  • Assessed where you spend your time, energy, and bandwidth

  • Reflected on whether your priority tasks and responsibilities where getting the appropriate attention

  • Identified tasks you shouldn’t be doing but that need to be completed by someone

  • Can verbalise the importance and impact the task has, what outcome is expected, and how success is measured

Step 1 | Task

What is it that you want to delegate? Assess three aspects of the task or process you’re looking to delegate.

A low / medium / high rating works well here.

  • COMPLEXITY– do you have a standard process or is it new? How difficult is the process?

  • VISIBILITY is this high or low profile? Does this task impact on any other work?

  • RISK how important is it to get it right the first time? Is it dangerous?

Step 2 | Person

Then assess and decide the person(s) you’ll delegate to based on these three aspects:

  • CAPABILITY – strengths, skills, knowledge, experience, confidence, interests

  • DEVELOPMENT GOAL – could this be a great learning activity for someone?

  • AVAILABILITY – capacity to complete.

Step 3 | Level

Once you’ve matched the person to the task, it’s about choosing a style of delegation that’s most appropriate. It's not a one size fits all. And it’s not an all-or-nothing scenario either.

Depending on the task, person, and context you might be more comfortable with some styles more than others. Great leaders make choices based on the situation and the people involved rather than on personal preference.

Here's one way to categorise different 'degrees' of delegation (and degree of empowerment it provides)

  1. Do exactly what I say. (None)

  2. Report all the facts to me and I’ll decide what to do. (Very limited)

  3. Give me your recommendation and other options. Then, I’ll decide. (Some: requires initiative and analysis)

  4. You decide, but don’t go ahead until I say. (Some: requires analysis and authority)

  5. You decide and take action. Let me know how it goes. (High: trust and competence evident)

  6. You decide what we need to achieve, take action and there’s no need to check back with me. (Highest)

So choose - which level s the best for the task and person? And now you need to convey all these messages to this person.

Step 4 | Conversation

You’re ready to delegate. This conversation is crucial.

You can use the ACORNS model to help you provide all the information they need. The order isn’t important. But when you’re delegating all aspects will need to be covered.

A | Analyse & Allocate – consider the task, person, and your approach (Steps 1 – 3 above)

C | Context & Connections – Provide context for the task and link to the bigger picture

O | Outcomes & Obstacles clarify outcome, establish standards, roles and timeframes, identify known or potential challenges

R | Resources & Responsibilities – Guidance on support / resources they’ll need and roles and responsibilities

N | Negotiate & No Surprises - Decide how and when you’ll touch base and establish a ‘no surprises’ principle from the outset

S | Summarise (and Seek learnings afterwards) – Ask the person to summarise their understanding of what’s required. After the task is complete, do a retrospective with the person - what worked, what didn't, what will this look like going forward?)

Some quick call outs

If you only delegate the shitty tasks that you don't want to do, it's pretty obvious. And people aren't that motivated or enthused to do the hospital-pass-shit-tasks.

Fear of failure is a big thing that can stop anyone. And people are going to make mistakes (that's a good thing and can show they're progressing and learning). But that doesn't stop it from being scary. Be open and upfront about this. Plus, if you delegate at the right level, this will be addressed!

What if they're better than you at it? Let's be honest, this can and has stopped people from delegating. The worry that they'll show you up. Well, A) great! Change your mindset - this isn't diminishing your strengths or value add. Use this as a way to use and highlight their strengths and B) think about all the additional value you can add in other areas now that you've freed up some time and bandwidth.

There are a lot of reasons delegation can be difficult. If you analyse and prepare, you can make it easier on yourselves and the person you’re delegating to.

These four steps (task, person, level, conversation) can create a strong delegation foundation. It should be an enjoyable, development experience for both the delegator and the delegatee!


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