Is your inability to delegate holding your employees and you back?

Mary is a star in her new job. In fact, she's so good, her boss has promoted her to a managerial position just one year after she took over as marketing director of a small company.

"I really love my job," she said during our recent lunch, "but I realize I have a lot to learn about managing," she confessed. "My employees are asking me for more responsibility and yet I hesitate to delegate the grunt work and I end up doing it all myself...besides, it takes longer to explain it than to do it. My boss is thrilled with my results and I don't want to do anything to mess that up with him."

Mary has always been a sole performer who has had total control over her own work. The shift to delegating part of her work feels uncomfortable because she feels accountable for the results and she wants it done right. Like most new managers, she thinks that "letting go" means being irresponsible.

Her employees are lucky; Mary is smart enough to recognize her need to learn new skills. Managers, who don't learn to delegate effectively, end up with employees who feel unchallenged and resentful. These managers tend to plateau at the first level of supervision and wonder why their To Do Lists are a mile long and their employees keep leaving.

Here's what I told Mary: Your need to be in ultimate control could be your undoing. Your boss won't think you are a star for long if you can't "off load" your routine work to make room for new, more challenging assignments.

Managers who are reluctant to delegate for fear of "dumping" on their employees are missing the point. Employees who are worth their salt want to help their boss. In fact, bosses who treat their employees as partners in their projects are not seen as "dumpers" they are seen as "developers."

Perfectionists like Mary have a hard time delegating. Part of the challenge of supervising others is knowing how to back off and let your employees complete tasks in their own way. They may even discover a better way to do the job.

A good place to start is to take a look at your To Do List each week and check the tasks that are routine or fairly straightforward. Even though it takes time to explain WHAT, WHY AND WHEN, it is a long-term investment because next time there will be no need for an explanation.

Be careful about the HOW. It's fine to describe how you've done the task in the past but make sure your employees know they are expected to find new and better approaches whenever they can. Peering over their shoulders or re-doing their work will discourage and anger them ("If she wanted it done her way, why didn't she just do it in the first place?").

This is tricky. Spell out the results up front and set up interim meetings to coach and advise. Otherwise, keep your hands off. Ask yourself, "Does their result do the job?" instead of "Is it exactly as I would have done it?"

If a task requires a lot of judgment or decision- making or a senior manager has asked you to personally complete an assignment, don't delegate it. The same is true of a project that has high visibility with an element of risk; don't toss the hot potato to your employee unless they are well prepared for the job and the visibility could do them some good.

Make it very clear how much authority they have in the given task, so your employees don't have to ask you for your approval at each step. If you let your employees have some decision-making authority, they will take more responsibility for their work because the end result will be their own.

If you only delegate the junk and keep the good stuff for yourself, your employees will become bored, and what's worse, they will feel that you don't trust them to do the "important" work. And if your employees can't do at least some of the "important" work, you are to blame. A manager's responsibility is to expose employees to more and more complex assignments so they learn to handle them.

You are ultimately responsible for tasks you delegate so don't blame them when things go wrong. Find out why and look for ways to avoid making the same mistake again. And don't delegate with an apologetic tone. They aren't doing you a favor; you are giving them to chance to find challenge in their work and growth in their careers. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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