The Focused Manager
Turning Delegation Dreams into Reality
Tips for managers to spread the workload
By Brian Walch

anagers want more time to do meaningful work. They want better work-life balance and more energy for professional development. They have ideas for improving things and want to implement them. They have desires to grow at work and dreams for their career.

What stops them?

“Not enough time,” they’ll say.

Their boss will respond, “You should delegate more.”

If only it were that easy. As if delegation is a magic wand that could make it all happen with a flick of the wrist.

It isn’t. Delegation takes work. A great manager must invest time to develop their skills and realize their desires. Alisa Cohn, a top-level CEO coach, says, “The number one job of a leader is to become a master delegator.”

Managers can develop their delegation skills by adopting a structured approach like the one below, putting it into practice, and adapting it to their situation. If they persevere, they and their teams will realize the benefits.

What Stops Delegation?
It is easy to assume the proper technique, framework, or method is all that is needed to become a master delegator. Although helpful, it isn’t the biggest hurdle to overcome.

The person delegating the work is the biggest obstacle. Here are some reasons people give for not delegating and what they are really saying:

“It will be faster if I do it myself.” In other words, “I’m too busy.”

“They aren’t ready to take that on yet.” They might as well say, “They can’t do it as well as I do it.”

“This is a core part of my job.” The unvoiced concern is, “What will I do if I don’t do that?”

“I need to be available for any issues.” They might be thinking, “They can’t survive without me.”

Although they sound like excuses, these concerns must be addressed to progress. To overcome these obstacles, discuss them and create counteracting statements like these:

“Yes, it is faster if you do it yourself. But investing time now will give you more time later.”

“No, they can’t do it as well as you, but they can do it well enough, allowing you to do more important things better.”

“Yes, it is core to your job now, but you want to grow. You must make space somewhere if you’re going to do something new.”

“Yes, they will survive, but with a few mistakes. People learn best through experience. Trust your team and allow them to grow.”

Who Can Do the Work?
Even after addressing objections, it isn’t time to jump into delegation methods. Instead, consider who should have work delegated to them.

When I work with clients, I ask them to list all the people they could potentially delegate to, including direct reports, people in other departments, and vendors or customers.

Using that list, they can consider each person independently. Who do they work well with? Who could take on more work? What types of tasks could they take? Who is ready to advance in their career?

There will be nuances, caveats, and exceptions with each person on the list. That’s the point. Delegation relies on a relationship, which must be considered before selecting the work to delegate to them.

What to Delegate?
Reviewing the people often generates lots of ideas of things to delegate. Becoming a master delegator, however, requires continuously evaluating and categorizing the work so it is ready to be delegated. These are the types of tasks that are candidates for delegation:

  • Work that is not energizing and not important. For instance, processing receipts must be done but doesn’t have a significant impact on the business.
  • Urgent but not important work. Examples include scheduling a meeting or ordering office supplies.
  • Recurring work. This type of work has ongoing returns when successfully delegated but requires a commitment to the process. It can be demoralizing if the work must be pulled back.
  • Project tasks. These can be run as experiments to see how someone does with additional responsibility and to learn how to delegate to them better in the future.
  • Operational areas. Delegating areas of responsibility can provide employees with greater autonomy and authority to improve things.

With a list of people and a backlog of tasks, a master delegator can be a matchmaker, pairing work with people and increasing productivity and engagement.

The Delegation Discussion
Although delegation can be achieved by providing commands and direction, many tasks require a deeper discussion about the work, and it is an opportunity to develop a relationship.

Before engaging in that discussion, the delegator must be clear about the desired result so that they communicate it well. They should be able to answer these questions:

  • What is a successful outcome?
  • When does it need to be completed?
  • What is an acceptable level of quality and completeness?
  • What level of authority are you giving the person? For reference, see Michael Hyatt’s “Five Levels of Delegation.”

The preparation will improve the quality of the delegation discussion. An effective discussion should have the following attributes:

  • Describe what results are expected.
  • Spend more time describing the goal than the process.
  • Explain the plan for check-ins and follow-up.
  • Verify the necessary support is available.
  • Create space for negotiation.

The discussion should allow for open dialog about the schedule, quality, or other aspects that can be adjusted to create a successful outcome. After the person has had time to process, a follow-up meeting can ensure they are still confident about the plan.

Mind the Dip
Delegating is like investing. It takes patience and perseverance. Not every investment pays off, but with a portfolio of reasonably intelligent investments over time, there will be a good return.

Although people are energized when brainstorming about who and what they can delegate, it is hard to follow through. Delegation relies on people and relationships, which often have variable results. Employees leave, things change, or the delegated work is no longer needed. Master delegators take a portfolio approach and recognize that not every effort to delegate will be successful.

Like investing, any individual investment can go down before it starts to rise. In economics, this is referred to as the J-curve. The same thing happens when delegating. Productivity and results take a dip before they start going up.

Making it through the delegation dip requires a commitment to the process and patience for results. Those who can make it through become better at delegating and realize its benefits.

Expect to Stumble
There are pitfalls, no matter how much preparation, attention, and commitment are given to the process. These can hinder effective delegation, but bringing awareness will help mitigate their impacts.

  • Under-supporting the effort: Sometimes, employees don’t know what they don’t know, leading to insufficient support from the delegator or organization. Mitigate this by discussing the work and the plan and then checking back after they’ve had time to process it.
  • Micro-managing the work: Delegating work will grow the capacity and competency of a team. However, micro-managing the work will have the opposite effect and must be guarded against. Delegators should define the desired outcome, provide the support requested, and wait until the end to evaluate the results.
  • Overthinking what to delegate: This can happen when organizing what to delegate and not moving forward on how to delegate. To overcome this, start small and practice pairing people to work. This builds the skills and trust of the team. More significant strategic initiatives will become apparent as the team gains momentum.
  • Delegating too much too quickly: When someone fails, it hurts their confidence, erodes trust, and causes delegation to stagnate. Master delegators start slowly and run experiments or conduct mini-projects to help people grow. This allows them to expand when it goes well and reevaluate when it doesn’t.
  • Not considering others: Others will notice work and responsibilities being delegated and may interpret it as a potential promotion or other imminent change. Recognize that some delegation initiatives will require greater levels of communication with the larger team.
Successful Delegation Develops Others
Managers are motivated to find ways to achieve their goals. As they become master delegators, they will have more time and energy to invest in themselves and their teams.

The delegation process requires developing relationships, working together, and trusting others. As managers delegate, employees will observe and learn, allowing them to grow and develop.

Creating an organizational culture of delegating well can lead to improved engagement, higher trust, and increased collaboration. The organization becomes more resilient, productive, and able to grow.

Delegation may not be a magic wand, but it can turn dreams into reality.

Brian Walch
Brian Walch is an executive coach, consultant, and speaker on leadership development. He uses his extensive experience in people and systems to provide tools and services to empower managers to lead themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Learn more at