The Truth About Delegation

We begin delegating even before we learn how to talk. If you’ve ever seen a crying infant pointing at a bottle that’s just out of reach, you’ve seen delegation in action. And if you handed that child the bottle, you were successfully delegated a task.

So, considering that we all have so much experience with delegating, why don’t we get outstanding results every time we ask an employee to complete a task?

Unfortunately, delegating is usually approached as a transaction, which it isn’t. Managers think, “I tell an employee to do a task. The employee does the task. I reward the employee. Everyone’s happy.” This is the managerial version of pointing at a bottle and crying.

But just as that baby can cry and point in vain, so can managers. What makes us actually give the baby the bottle isn’t just our desire to stop the noisy crying. It’s based on a mix of relationship factors, including empathy, communication, and a desire for a mutually beneficial outcome.

At its core, delegation is an act of trust. When it’s successful, the relationship between leader and employee is strengthened. When it’s ineffective, it can get one or both people fired.

Many leaders wrongly feel that delegating is too hard or too risky, and prefer to do things themselves. This attitude is precisely what keeps “bottle washers” who work 60-plus hours a week from getting to the next level.

Successful delegation doesn’t just allow you to get more done in less time. It also frees you up to contribute at your highest and best level, stops you from being a bottleneck in organizational capacity, allows your employees to further develop their skills, and builds a culture of accountability for your organization and yourself.


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