Where Delegation Goes Wrong

a person handing off a document to another person




Striking the right balance.

If you’re like most leaders, you’re struggling to strike the right balance between accountability and empowering your team. Fall short on this delicate balance, and everyone involved becomes frustrated and less effective.

There’s also pressure to get the most out of delegating. You want to be a leader who brings out the best in others and adds to your company’s success. You want to be a force multiplier.* 

Delegation is one of the most potent force amplifiers in your leadership toolbox, and when done well, it will: 

  • Save you time.
  • Lower business costs.
  • Develop your team’s skills.
  • Motivate employees to do better work than they ever imagined possible.

Delegation, when done poorly, leads to weak team performance and lower job satisfaction.

No wonder you’re feeling the pressure.

Fortunately, all it takes is the right preparation, communication and follow-up to become an ace delegator.

Stage 1: Prepare for success.

Powerful tools require an upfront investment before you can use them expertly. With delegating, your upfront investment is the time you spend setting standards, answering key questions, and planning. 

Start by determining what impact you want for everyone involved and what needs to be accomplished. Ask yourself: 

1. What is my Business Intention for this work? (i.e., objectives, quality standards, cost, and timeline)

2. What is my People Intention for this work? (i.e., employee involvement, skill development, inspiration, safety, and support)

Next, determine what your involvement should look like for this assignment and the people doing the work. Be specific and put it down on paper.

Then write questions to cover with your employees so you can think through likely obstacles and concerns together. 

As you write out these questions, note what assumptions pop up about the employees, their skills, workload, aptitude, attitude, etc. Think through these assumptions and challenge yourself to weed out opinion and supposition. If there’s something important you don’t know for sure, include it in your list of questions.

After that, draft a schedule of follow-up meetings at appropriate intervals. In these meetings, you can make sure your employees are making progress, and the work meets your agreed-upon standards. 

Finally, write out your expectations for what needs to be completed by the first follow-up meeting.

Stage 2: Communicate for success.

Once you’ve finished the vital preparation stage, it’s time to begin to hand over the assignment. For this stage, you’ll want to address six key issues as you communicate with your employees.

  1. Maintain a healthy, balanced focus on the people and the work. This means setting clear expectations, defining success, and connecting the work to your employees’ unique talents and motivations. 
  2. Explain how you and your employees will work together. Cover who is responsible for which tasks and how much authority the employees have. 
  3. Encourage questions and feedback. Now’s the time to address your employees’ concerns and get buy-in on your expectations.
  4. Don’t end any meeting until you’ve confirmed the next steps and action items. 
  5. Check-in with your employees regularly and provide feedback. You’re asking for trouble if you wait until the final deadline to sync up. When following up, remind yourself challenges are only that and not failures. When leaders panic at the first sign of struggle, they try to take over control and start to micromanage. (And no one wants to be a micromanager.)
  6. When the situation changes—and it often does—adjust your involvement and communicate those changes to your employees. Sometimes you’ll need to offer more support. Other times you’ll be able to step back. Whatever you do, base your involvement by what’s best for the situation, not what’s most comfortable for you. 

Stage 3: Follow-up for success.

If you’ve aced the first two stages, congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming a delegating superstar. The final piece to the delegation puzzle is consistent follow-up. 

Consistent follow-up makes accountability easier. It also offers the chance to spark employees’ internal motivation. You can inspire ownership, engagement, and the drive to get work they’re proud of across the finish line.

Providing regular, effective feedback helps employees learn and improve their work quickly. The longer you go without making corrections, the harder it is to get back on track.

Regular follow-up allows you to address any issues with your level of involvement, priorities and deadlines. These meetings are your chance to confirm commitment, ownership, standards and milestones. Also, they prevent last-minute crises and having to fix avoidable issues.

Have more impact (and less pressure).

Hopefully, you’re feeling better about delegating now you know what to do and when to do it. Follow the recommendations we outlined here and you’ll easily find the right balance between accountability and empowerment. But, much more than that, you’ll be a force multiplier.

We’d love to hear how things go for you as you implement the ideas we’ve outlined here. Please let us know about the first time you motivate your employees to do better work than they ever imagined possible. We want to celebrate with you. 

If you run into any challenges implementing these concepts, give us a call. We’d be happy to answer your questions. 

Enough reading for now. It’s time to have a bigger impact with a lot less pressure.

* Choosing to see yourself as a force multiplier is one of the most strategic shifts a leader can make.

BONUS: Here’s checklist to help you pinpoint where delegation might be going wrong for you. 

Download Checklist


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