Being able to delegate tasks is a key part of any leadership role. Without it, managers are simply doing work that team members could be doing for them.
That’s not to say that leaders are so important that they should never get their hands dirty with the real work. Many management roles involve a degree of hands-on work in addition to leading a team.
However, if you are constantly unable to delegate tasks to people in your team, you have a problem.
The whole point of leadership is to have time to think strategically, provide support to the team, resolve issues and to make decisions. When you are stuck actually doing your team’s work every day, you will find it much more difficult to perform your leadership role.
Key Reasons Why Leaders Won’t Delegate (and How to Work On Them)
In my experience, when leaders won’t delegate, it can happen for several reasons. Let’s look at a few of them now.
1. Leaders Won’t Delegate Tasks When They Are Too Scared to Fail
Fear of failure can cause leaders to hold on to work and refuse to delegate. They feel that they need to take charge and deliver the work personally to make sure it is done to the right standard.
Some leaders like to say:
“If you want something done properly, do it yourself.”
But then I’d ask the question, “How are you doing your leadership role properly, when you are doing all the other work yourself?”
This is a productivity trap. Managers who do this end up “hoarding” their work, refusing to give anything up to their team members.
2. Leaders Won’t Delegate Tasks When They Lack Trust In Their Team Members
Many leaders struggle to trust their team members. They are not alone, and I’ve been there too!
If you don’t trust your team, you’re not necessarily wrong. But you need to fix those trust issues if you hope to delegate tasks to your team members.
What you need to avoid is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you believe your team can’t be trusted, and they start to believe it too!
You can read more about this topic here: Are You Ruining Your Team With a Self Fulfilling Prophecy?
Trust issues can come from behaviour problems, lack of team motivation or low capability in the team.
You need to find out which one is bothering you, so you can work on it, to let go and delegate more.
3. Leaders Won’t Delegate Tasks When They Love the Detail
There are some people who just love working in the detail. I’ve even worked with executives who just love worrying about the detail, far more than thinking about the strategic part of their jobs.
The problem with being involved in the detail all the time is that it’s very difficult to let go. Once you start to obsess over the minor details that somebody else should really be worrying about, you will find it much harder to delegate anything.
How to Delegate Tasks More Effectively
Essentially, leaders who fail to delegate tasks are thinking:
- “I can do the task better than anyone else”
- “If I give the task to someone else, they’ll stuff it up”; or
- “If I’m not doing the actual work, what value am I adding?”
Let’s look at how we can let go of some of these thoughts, that are stopping us from delegating tasks.
1. Delegate Tasks By Learning to Let Go
Being scared to fail is a common trait. The problem is that it holds leaders back by causing us to hold onto work we could otherwise delegate.
Learning to let go is the first step, and you can do it gradually. If you’re worried that a team member will make a mistake or do the wrong thing, put some safeguards in place.
Monitor the work closely by setting up regular times to review progress. Make yourself available to support your team member if they need it.
If something does go wrong, be sure not to jump in and solve everything yourself. Otherwise, what was an opportunity for your team member to take on greater accountability has been lost, because they are now “off the hook”.
Be there to course-correct, review and support the work. But don’t take over.
2. Delegate Tasks By Clearly Setting Expectations
Setting expectations is crucial when you need to delegate tasks. I’ve seen many leaders complain about how their team members behave or perform. The irony is, often they do this without ever having set clear expectations in the first place.
When delegating tasks, you need to state what needs to be done, when you need it and why it’s important. Depending on the experience and skill of the person you are delegating to, you may also need to explain how it needs to be done.
In general, you should spend more time and effort setting expectations when you are dealing with team members with lower skill levels, experience or if they are new to your team.
For team members that are experienced and familiar with the work and what you need, you can afford to relax a little and provide more autonomy.
3. Delegate Tasks By Being More Strategic
When you’re leading a team, you should aim to bring yourself “up a level” and extract yourself from the day to day detailed work.
Of course, the degree to which you’ll be able to do this will depend on the nature of your role.
Many leaders get involved with detail work because it’s all they know. They struggle to let go because when they are getting their hands dirty with the work, they feel more valuable.
Focus on some of the following activities to see whether you can start being more strategic to improve your team:
- Develop a team purpose, to drive your team in the right direction. Read how in this post: Don’t Have a Clear Team Purpose? Here’s Why You Need One.
- Understand your team processes and look for ways to improve them. Read more about team processes in this post: Why You Need to Understand Your Team Process.
- Understand your team’s resourcing requirements and reduce the risk of issues. Read more about this topic in this post: How to Create a Skills Matrix and 3 Ways You Should Use It.
You will find that the more you focus on strategic activities, the more you will *need* to delegate to your team members.
This will not only help you get yourself out of the detailed work, but will also help to improve your team at the same time.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced with delegating tasks? And how did you overcome them? Let me know your stories in the comments below!
Alternatively, if you'd like to know more or need some help on this topic, simply send me a private message through my contact page: