I have often gotten the following question: “How do you delegate effectively?  I have trouble delegating projects to people.  I tend to yank them back when times get hard.  I don’t mean to do this.  I just can’t seem to resist sometimes.  I always end up feeling like I could do it better myself.

Here are some thoughts on this subject:

The struggle in effective delegation is a common one for leaders. I will address two things in this response: One, a practical how-to guide on delegation that covers the tactical nuts and bolts, and a deeper dive into the real reasons people have trouble deleburiedgating. The deeper dive first.  Have you ever asked yourself why you feel the urge to yank back control?  One common reason for this Yo-Yo effect is that people truly do want to release power and authority, but they have a deeper stronger need to feel (fill in the blank) maybe in control, not humiliated by a project failure etc.   When you give away power to someone (i.e. give them the power to make a decision) you do give up some control.  There are other benefits to delegating that should be looked at.  The other benefits such as developing others around you and being able to get more done because of division of labor far outweigh the downsides to delegating. We cannot be leaders if we don’t learn to get work done through other people. A leader/manager’s job is to help coordinate work so that more may be accomplished through the whole and not as a collection of individual contributors.

One place to look for a culprit in the Yo-Yo effect is you.  What deeper commitment is at play in your life that keeps you from letting go of that control? We need to identify this deeper need to get any traction on delegating.  Once you identify the deeper commitment, one has to ask what do you believe deep down about that commitment.  For example, one may identify the need to not be humiliated as a competing commitment that you hold that is stronger than the commitment to release power to someone else (delegate).  Next you need to ask yourself where did I learn that commitment to not be humiliated?  Where did that come from?  Is that always true?  From there we need to find ways to modestly test whether that commitment is always true and can we find data that proves otherwise. Once we can prove that it is not always true, we can continue to look for more data (examples) of when that is not true in our lives.  Are there examples of times when we did give up control or delegate something that did go well, or where the person exceeded expectations?  In actuality, we need to prove to ourselves that the opposite of what we have previously assumed as true is not always true.

Now on to some  tips on how to effectively delegate to subordinates. First you need to clearly know the picture of what you want done.  You need to be able to clearly articulate the end goal.  So often a leader will not take the time to slow down to vividly and clearly paint a picture of what the vision of success is in this instance. Be specific on what you want, don’t just say, “I want a report on XYZ.”  Explain to them what you expect in the report in detail.  The more detail you give the better the end product.

Next you need to set goals on when you want the project done.  Don’t leave it out there with a nebulous date.  Get a firm commitment on when you could expect the project completed.

Finally, you need to follow-up with that person to see how they are doing with the project and give them permission to ask you any questions they need to move the project forward.  Give them the no “dumb” questions speech — There are no “dumb questions” just “dumb people” who are afraid to ask them.  Invite them to ask you questions. A thirty-second exchange could give them the guidance they need to complete the project successfully – You can spare thirty seconds can’t you?

For an even deeper dive on making traction on developmental goals check out this book:

Immunity to Change by Kegan and Lahey.

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