Great leaders know that delegation means the difference between workload balance and burnout.

When done correctly, delegating not only benefits the manager but also provides growth and leadership opportunities to team members. However, it’s more complicated than simply telling others what to do.

We put together a few do’s and don’ts to help you refine your ability to delegate as a leader:

Don’t: Set vague expectations.

According to Steven Covey’s classic work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, delegation can be broken into five different levels of initiative a team member can take in order to complete a project: (1) Wait until told, (2) Ask, (3) Recommend, (4) Do it, and report immediately and (5) Do it, and report routinely.

So, what level should you establish with your team when setting up a delegation?

It’s important for you to set clear expectations on how much autonomy a team member has for a certain task – and the level of initiative the team member can exercise. Should you provide explicit direction on how and when a task should be completed? Or, would it better to empower a team member to anticipate needs and carry out a solution on their own? Maybe somewhere in between?

Generally, empowered team members are equipped to make more decisions on their own, and their ability to effectively make those decisions depends largely on the training and mentoring that you’ve provided up to that point.

If the project is complex or you’re new to delegating, you may want to provide more direction early on so that team members can learn how to approach projects or problems under your guidance. As team members gain more confidence, they’ll also gain more autonomy.

When laying out a project, provide clear deadlines and discuss the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, how their role in the project will help and what skills they’ll be developing.

Do: Check for understanding.

Just like when you’re training your team, it’s essential that you know team members understand the goal of the project.

You could give the same set of instructions to four team members and each could come away with a different understanding of the task, so you don’t want to leave the results to chance. But beware of asking the dreaded question “do you understand?”

Instead, ask them to recap their understanding of the tasks, goals, timelines and status uprdates you have agreed upon so that you clear up misconceptions before they start.

Don’t: Go into helicopter mode.

One of the hardest ideas for many managers to fully embrace is that you must trust your teammate to take the ball and run it down the field. To battle this, know that the clearer you are in delivering instructions and checking for understanding before they go out on their own to complete the task, the better.

Try to uncover any obstacles or hesitations that may prevent a teammate from getting started by asking, “what questions do you have?” or “what do you need from me in order to get started on the project?” or even, “What do you think might prevent you from getting the project done by the deadline?”

Preset progress touch-points are essential so that you both will know when to check in. Complex projects without clear milestones can lead to procrastination when a team member becomes overwhelmed. Setting up milestones helps you keep things moving, check progress and provide necessary guidance while keeping you from micromanaging.

Do: Remember there are many ways to storm a castle.

Part of delegation means letting go of your way of doing things. Be open to other perspectives and ways team members seek to complete a project so they feel like you value their opinions and critical thinking abilities.

Think about the task at hand. Is there really just one way it can be completed, or are you just stuck on your way? Give people space to think creatively about how to approach a project, and you might be surprised to learn at how well they do.

Even if you need to redirect them, you’re still fostering team member growth, which will only help the business in the long run.

Don’t: Misuse delegation by giving all or none.

Delegation doesn’t mean pushing all the boring or unsavory tasks onto others or giving the best tasks to yourself or select groups. Take care not to “play favorites” or overload team members who are already struggling. This can negatively impact morale.

As a leader, you are judged by your actions, and, while it should go without saying, team members will be looking to make sure you’re doing your fair share. Don’t be afraid to get in the trenches with them to foster better teamwork. Also, be liberal giving recognition for their efforts throughout and at the completion of the project.

DelegatingLast, beware of thinking you must do everything yourself and refraining from delegating at all. This can cause you to experience burnout and create dissention among your team if they feel your stress or you devolve into unproductive “I’m-the-only-one-who-works-here” behaviors.

When used effectively, delegation can help you share some of the burden to get more done while giving your team members crucial growth opportunities. Consideration, communication and constructive feedback make it possible to maximize its potential in any business.


After all, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller.

How do you approach delegating in your FEC? Tell us more in the comments or on Twitter.


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