Delegating. It can seem like a bad word. Every leader and manager knows they should delegate, but so few of us feel comfortable, or knowledgeable, delegating. We have too much to do, but don’t want to let any of it go – because we’re rightly afraid it will take longer and be more effort to have someone else do it…and they might not do it right! So we plunge ahead and make these five common mistakes:

  1. Delegating too little – We keep it to ourselves. Can’t let anything go. Are too concerned with not just the final outcome but also the path chosen to reach that outcome, and we delegate nothing (or very little). Or we claim to be delegating and drop mindless, monotonous tasks on our direct reports, and neglect to give them even a glimpse of the big picture or final desired result.
  2. Delegating too much – My clients sigh a huge sigh of relief when I let them know that they don’t have to delegate an entire project. They can delegate steps, or specific action items, or portions of the project. They can keep themselves involved in the project while also engaging their team. Just as disastrous as not delegating anything is delegating it all – feeling like you have to step completely away when you delegate.
  3. Delegating the things you hate – If you hate a project, or a task, chances are your direct reports will hate it too. And even if they don’t, chances are they know you do, so they’ll see your delegation as more of a dumping.
  4. Delegating things you love – If you love it, hang on to it. At least a little bit. We’re all allowed to have the parts of work we love – and to relish them and find more of them. Don’t give it away, or at least not all of it, if it really fuels you.
  5. Delegating unselfishly – You have to be aware of your own needs when you delegate. If you want follow up within a week, then let that be known. If you need updates every few days, share that. If you must see the final report before it gets shared with anyone else, tell your delegatee. If you want nothing more to do with the project, share that as well. It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself when you delegate – so delegate selfishly.
  6. Delegating without structure – You need set check-in points. You need guidelines for the process and the end result. You need a structure so that you know what to expect, and your direct reports know what you expect of them.

Delegating can seem like a bad word, or at least a bad idea. But there is opportunity in delegating, no matter how difficult it is. And by avoiding these common mistakes, you can delegate successfully – freeing yourself for other work and developing your team.

How do you delegate effectively?
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