Delegation is the process of passing on responsibility to carry out a specific task, as well as the authority to do so.

Accordingly to a recently published study, 78% of employees in major corporations think that their bosses routinely do work that could be effectively delegated to more junior employees.[1] The research also revealed that 66% of managers said that they would like to increase their use of delegation as a time management and personnel development tool. Given these statistics, the question then arises why aren’t managers utilizing delegation more?

Common barriers to the effective use of delegation include:

  • Perfectionism
  • Time constraints
  • Concern that direct reports lack the necessary knowledge or skills
  • Uncomfortable asking for help
  • Belief that the project/task is too important

Even when managers overcome these barriers, there is a high probability that they will fall into one of the many traps of ineffective delegation. Such traps can be said to fall into two extremes of a spectrum i.e. an abdication of responsibility at one end and micro-management at the other end. Here’s how these two extremes show up in the workplace.

Abdication of Responsibility (aka Dump and Run) Micromanagement/Over-Engineering
Waits until the last minute to assign tasks Provides too much lead-time, eliminating any sense of urgency
Omits important details about the job Provides too many details and leaves no room for creativity
Doesn’t provide necessary resources Provides too much information
Assumes that the person will figure things out by themselves Tries to answer every question before it’s asked
Assigns jobs to people who may not be competent to do them Assigns jobs to people who are overqualified and will be bored
Doesn’t check in or monitor progress Doesn’t give the employee any breathing room

The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and involves the following measures:

  • Providing enough lead-time for task to be done right
  • Sharing relevant facts as well as a big picture.
  • Providing needed resources
  • Providing time to ask questions and figure things out
  • Assigning jobs to people who are competent to do them
  • Letting go, but remaining available to help
  • Monitoring progress without micromanaging
  • Building confidence and trust with sincere feedback

Where do you currently stand in the delegation spectrum? Are you of the dump and run ilk, or would your direct reports describe you as more of a micro-manager? If you currently fall into either of these two extremes what are some practical steps that you can take to become a more effective delegate and unleash the personal and organizational benefits associated with mastering the art of delegation?

[1] Statistics presented by Leadership Choice during a June 2015 ATD webinar.

(First published on

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