"Delegation is the most powerful tool leaders have" Dr. John Maxwell, top selling author and noted expert on leadership.


Want to maximize your personal productivity and develop your team members at the same time? Delegation is a key management tool to use. Delegation doesn't come naturally to many of us - we often think it's safer and easier to do things ourselves. Eli Broad observes, "The inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels."


Trying to do too much and not delegating is not a recent problem - it dates back at least 4,000 years to the days of Moses. In Exodus chapter 18 we read the story of Moses leading the nation of Israel and trying to do it all, to the detriment of the people. Moses' father-in-law Jethro came to visit and saw the dysfunction. Jethro recommended that Moses delegate some of the responsibilities and authority to other capable men and reserve the really big issues for himself. Moses wisely listened to the advice of Jethro - and the Israelites were the benefactors.


Let's explore the management tool of delegation by asking and answering some fundamental questions: Why delegate? When to delegate? What to delegate? Who to delegate? And How to delegate?


Why Delegate?


Delegation done well benefits you and the person you delegate to. A big benefit for leaders is it frees us up to do the value-added tasks we are paid to do. It helps us avoid being spread too thin and burning ourselves out. Anthea Turner was on the mark when she said "The first rule of management is delegation. Don't try and do everything yourself because you can't." We also gain the satisfaction of seeing team members grow and develop.


Perhaps the main benefit to the person we delegate is they get the opportunity to grow and develop as they learn and apply new skills, gain additional experience, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Successful completion of delegated tasks builds confidence and improves morale and motivation.


When to Delegate?


When should we look to delegate? Here are some questions to consider that may help you decide when to delegate:


  1. Is someone else capable to do the job or is it a job that only I can do?

  2. Is there someone else that can do the job better than me?

  3. Is there someone else who can do the job at a lower cost than me?

  4. Is there someone who could benefit from the opportunity to learn and grow by doing this job?

  5. Do I have enough time to delegate the job effectively? This would include adequate time for training, questions and answers, and opportunities to check progress.



What to Delegate?


The reality is there are some tasks that we should NOT delegate even if we could. Tasks that are very important to the success of your team should not be delegated (participation by others yes, delegation no). Tasks like strategic planning and selection of team members should be led by the team leader and not delegated.


We should avoid delegating menial or unpleasant work just because we would prefer not to do it. On the other hand, delegating work that is value added, reasonably challenging, and rewarding can provide a person an opportunity to feel trusted and to learn and grow.


Who to Delegate?


Delegation to the "right" person can be inspiring and provide an opportunity to help their development and prove themselves worthy of greater future responsibilities - and a task gets completed competently. Delegation to the "wrong" person can result in poorly completed tasks and frustration by you and them. To help find that "right" person consider some of these factors:


  • Does a person have the experience, knowledge and skills to competently perform the task?

  • What are the person's goals and aspirations? Would this delegation be helpful to them in meeting their goals and aspirations?

  • What is the current work load of the person? Do they have time to meet the expectations of the task?


How to Delegate?


There are key components to delegation that will help ensure success. Following are some of the most important steps to successful delegation:


  • Understand the job to be delegated. We need to be clear in our mind what needs to be done, the process to follow and who we want to do the work.


  • Clearly explain the assignment and explain the "why." We should meet with the employee and explain why this is an important assignment, then talk through expectations on the desired end result. Don't forget to review the process - this includes levels of delegated authority (e.g. what decisions can be made by the employee versus decisions requiring manager approval), progress updates, your availability for support, etc.


  • Confirm understanding and commitment. We should make sure the assignment and all expectations are understood - and the employee is committed to see the assignment through to successful completion.


  • Monitor progress and provide on-going feedback. We want to ensure that the assignment gets completed in accordance with expectations. We also want the employee to learn and have a positive and confidence building experience. Providing on-going coaching will help this be the "win-win" we are looking for. We also want to avoid what I call "dirty delegation" - which is micro-management and not letting go enough of the task. The other extreme to avoid is "reverse delegation" which occurs when the employee entices the manager to do the task that was intended to be delegated.


  • Evaluate performance and identify lessons learned. Once the assignment is completed it is valuable to collaboratively discuss performance of the employee and discuss lessons learned. The time to reflect, evaluate and discuss outcomes and lessons learned is where much of the value of delegation derives from.


  • Don't forget to say "thanks!" Last but not least - don't forget to say "thank you" to the employee! People crave appreciation and recognition, and providing that will be motivating and inspiring to the recipient.


Here is a final inspiring quote from John Maxwell "If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate." I wish you the best for you and your team as you delegate well!



Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, MCOM, CCE, CBA, CBF, ICP, CCM, CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR manages multiple departments for a utility based in the Northwest. Wes also teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, NACUMS, and other regional and local events.  Check out his personal website for free information (www.wesfriesen.com).  He can be contacted at pchefdebi@comcast.net.