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Entrepreneurs, new managers, successful leaders, all share a common challenge . . . delegating tasks and assigning work. Delegation lies at the heart of organizational team building, personal empowerment, the coordination of work, and the development of shared vision and  responsibility.


The job of a successful entrepreneur frequently changes from being the driving force and the "OEO" (Only Executive Officer) to managing resources and leading others in the pursuit of their shared dream. Entrepreneurs are not automatically equipped to be managers. To give the reigns to someone else can be very difficult for a highly energetic, talented individual who became successful through hard work, ambition, and dedication to their vision. The good news is that management skills can be developed.


The job of a manager is to coordinate activity and to translate the organizational mission into individual goals and tasks. New managers need to understand the role of manager. They cannot, nor should not, do all the work of the organization. When given an objective, it is the manager's obligation to assign the work to an appropriate member of the team. Delegating work is one of the most difficult responsibilities of a manager and one that new managers need to learn quickly.


Finally, Legendary leadership is built on delegation. It establishes shared responsibility because of universal involvement in important tasks. To delegate requires trust, training, communication, accountability and participatory decision making. These skills build the relationships that bond a group of diverse individuals into a cohesive team.




There are three questions you will ask yourself as you move through your day. Do this silently for everything you do. Let no task be done unconsciously . . . let no job slip by unnoticed.

a. Does this need to be done?

b. If yes, do I have to do it?

c. If no, to whom can this be delegated???


a. Does this need to be done?  Eliminate all tasks that are unnecessary. Be brutal. Does the chore have any value?  Will it really contribute to the final product?  By all means, keep the essential functions, but don't let habit, ritual, or unconscious activity rob you of precious minutes.


b. If yes, do you have to do it? Are there tasks that others can do for you?  Don't let your ego get in the way here. Too often we tell ourselves that we are the best person to do a job and do not take the time and effort to train someone else, and trust them to carry out the assigned role.


Giving someone else the responsibility of carrying out a function is like taking your child to day care. The child is still yours and his/her success will still reflect on you. It is time, however, that you trust someone else to take on many of the routine tasks you could perform, but no longer need to. It is tough to let go, but if you choose wisely, the surrogate will do fine. You should remain diligent and hold people accountable for their performance, but it is time to place even your precious dreams and important goals into the hands of capable colleagues, professionals and team members.


Aristotle said, "we are what we repeatedly do." Habits are formed by repeated behavior. Unfortunately, a habit can become an unconscious time robber. Just because you have always done something doesn't mean you have to continue to do it. Sincerely and firmly ask yourself again . . . do I have to do it?


c. If you really don't have to do it, to whom can it be delegated?


Look around you. Continuously consider the possibilities. Remember, even a novice can be trained. If there isn't someone with experience, look for someone with potential. Sometimes you may have to pay for the service and sometimes you must get creative . . . but creating a list of tasks that you feel could be delegated is the first step to finding someone. Keep the list handy.



There are several principles to effective delegation. Review them so that when you do resolve to delegate more, you will be prepared. They are:


1. Break jobs into individual tasks

2. Delegate routinely

3. Delegate fairly

4. Select the assigned individual carefully

5. Overcome reluctance

6. Communicate clearly and specifically your  expectations

7. Accompany delegation with training

8. Show confidence and trust

9. Retain responsibility: absorb blame

10. Encourage creativity: pass on credit

11. Foster growth: turn mistakes into teaching moments

12. Empower the individual

13. Follow through: hold people accountable and provide feedback


That is a fairly extensive list delegation directives. Let me elaborate on each principle while you apply them to your own unique situation.




The purpose of breaking jobs into individual tasks is that you only do those things you must do yourself. If you look at a job as an unseamed whole, you will take on the whole assignment. By breaking down the job into its component parts, you can delegate sections to others, relieving your load and giving you more time for important functions that are on your "high priority" list. Every job has a series of steps to completion. Ask the same three questions listed above for each step.




Don't just delegate when your are harried or have too much to do. That is a reactive rather than a proactive stance. Your choices may not be as deliberate and thoughtful when you are reacting to an impending deadline or several conflicting demands. Bad decisions can be made when there is no opportunity for careful deliberation.


Delegate jobs that are appropriate for someone else to take care of as soon as you can. When you take on a task, or when one is delegated to you, ask yourself what elements do you need to legitimately hold on to and what elements you can assign to other people. Do this systematically and it will become a habit. Do this routinely and people will expect the flow of assignments.



Don't just transfer tasks that are burdensome and boring because you don't want to do them. (The exception to this is when you hire someone to take care of these duties for you such as copying and collating, or cleaning your offices, or making your deliveries.) I am referring to office or home delegation that results from an organizational hierarchy.


If you only delegate mundane, tedious work to others, how will this added responsibility be received by them? To motivate others to do the delegated work willingly and enthusiastically, the job should hold some interest and the added responsibility should at times be enriching. Of course it isn't practical to expect that all delegated assignments are going to be stimulating and delightful. The major part of delegated work will probably be programmed decisions and routine activities. Once in a while, however, it isn't a bad idea to allocate  pleasant chore.


I remember a colleague of mine delegated the opportunity to attend a conference in Hawaii to a member of his work group. I, of course, responded that this may have been a job to hold on to. He immediately and insightfully said that he had been giving this individual all of the report writing duties lately and that in his office this was considered the worst kind of work. He said it was time to delegate something agreeable so that he could keep this valuable employee motivated.


I guess if people run when you walk into a room, you probably have been delegating too much of the undesirable tasks, and not enough of the enriching. There needs to be a balance.


Think about assigning whole jobs to people so they can see the project from beginning to end. This can enhance the developmental potential of the experience and the level of personal satisfaction. It is more likely to be perceived as an opportunity than an ordeal.




"Don't try to teach a pig to sing.  They can't sing and it irritates the pig."


Even though you delegate a task, it does not mean that you lose interest or accountability. The person who takes on the responsibility is really doing it as your representative. Clearly, they should bring their own flavor to the implementation of the task, however you should find someone who is not only qualified, but shares similar convictions.


When assigning a task, look at potential, not necessarily experience. Just because a person hasn't done something in the past, it doesn't mean they can't do it.


Evaluate and assess people's skills and their capabilities. Do similar experiences show an aptitude? New responsibilities foster growth. If there are gaps in the individual's abilities, additional training may have to accompany the delegation, but that will promote continuous improvement and encourage professional development.


Finally, if people are willing to take on a task, they will be much more likely to successfully complete it. You may want to ask for volunteers for a job that you wish to delegate. People who respond will then be pursuing an interest. They may also be the best judge of their capabilities. When communicating with people around you, ask what they would like to take on next. Try to comply with their wishes. They may be more willing than you think to make decisions and take on responsibility.




Nothing is more difficult than to ask people to move out of their comfort zone and take on responsibilities for which they do not feel ready. If you have chosen wisely, you know the person can perform the task. If they are reluctant then it is probably based on confidence, not competence. It is up to you to encourage people to take risks. One way is to remove some of the reasons people are disinclined to take risks.                  


Some people are reluctant to take risks because of a fear of failure. They need to know that failure is not likely. Be specific. Let them know precisely why they were chosen for the task. Connect the job with the specific skills you see in them that will increase the probability of success. Be supportive and give them encouragement. Don't allow people to be self effacing or overly modest.  Even though people do fear failure, success if usually the outcome.  That is particularly true if they expect to be successful.


On the other hand, some people have a fear of success. They do not feel ready for the job. They want to do more and be more, but they feel success will increase their visibility, obligations or liability. It's like someone seeking a promotion and then getting it, only to have the terrifying feeling that now they have to make important decisions, solve tough problems, allocate resources and exhibit leadership.


Success, for some, can be as scary as it is satisfying. Success can be made less intimidating for people with this fear if they feel qualified and ready. This assurance should accompany any major delegated undertaking. Again, be specific. Don't just say "I know you can do it!", point to explicit examples of successful behavior that would indicate proficiency and expertise. Continued support doesn't hurt either. Do not allow people to be self effacing or overly modest. Some people are afraid because they don't feel mature and confident. You need to be there to remind them both through your actions and your words that you not only have confidence in them, but that this trust is not misplaced. More on that later.


Reluctance is not always due to fear of failure or success. Sometimes people just doesn't want to do it. Perhaps they feel they are already overworked. Maybe they think that it is not their job or that you are dumping on them again. Sometimes people are taken by surprise and are initially reluctant because feel they are not prepared for the role.


These are the times when you have to pull out your position authority or your personal power and insist that the person take the job. Sometimes this means that you will not be very popular. Well, wanting to be popular is very time consuming. You do too much yourself, and in your need to be accepted, you say "yes" when you really should say "no", or you think, "they may not like it, I had better just do it myself", instead of "it is time they took on the responsibility", or you say, "that's OK, I'll find someone else to do it", instead of "I insist".


If you meet resistance, take back the job, do it yourself or find someone else, it sets a very dangerous precedent. People will figure out that if they do not want to do something, all the have to do is defy the delegator and they will get their own way. They will know that all they have to do is show displeasure, confusion or opposition and they won't be challenged.


To overcome and prevent these pitfalls, be sure you accompany the assigned task with some payoff. Many people are intuitively driven by the profit motive..."what is in it for me?"  This is particularly true when the assigned task is ambitious, beyond the individual's experience or a major deviation from the norm.


What payoffs accompany tasks that are routinely delegated? First of all, let me reassure you that it does not have to be more money, a promotion or a bigger office. These things would be nice, but I realize that it is not always possible to provide these rewards.

Some people would like more power...give then authority along with the responsibility. Some people want more freedom...give them autonomy and decentralize the decision making. Some people want to learn new skills...give then training and the benefit of your -experience. Some people want approval...give them much appreciation and attention. Some people like variety and change...keep their assignments diverse and interesting. Some people want visibility, others crave promotability, still others just want to do their jobs well and are willing to follow your direction.


You must study the delicate mechanism of human behavior and motivate people by meeting their distinct needs. Motivating people is an essential companion to delegation. Be a student of motivational principles.


Some people may not take on a delegated task because they simply do not want any more to do. You need to assist them in finding time in their day to complete the work you want them to do. Have them keep a time log for a week and review it with them. Do a simple time and motion study on their work habits. Be assertive. If someone knows you will do it yourself if they offer a little resistance, they will use this knowledge to their advantage when you ask them to do something they do not wish to do.


Sometimes you will be delegating unpopular tasks. You have to persist. If you truly believe the people who are being assigned are both capable of doing the work and able to do it within reasonable time constraints, you will have to insist. Consequences for noncompliance will have to be formulated and communicated clearly. You may have to follow through and strictly and fairly implement the consequences.


The payoff for your continued persistence is that the more you delegate and the more people willingly carry out the assigned functions, the more time you will have to plan and get organized.




Individuals need to know exactly what it is you expect in order to assist you in your goals. Give them specific objectives, demonstrate what you envision, give details on your requirements and the results will be better.


No one can read your mind. Don't assume that if you can clearly see a goal, someone else can. They are approaching it from a different frame of reference. Their perception is from a unique angle. Take time in the beginning to clearly define your expectations and you won't have to fix it later. This saves time, not to mention frustration, anxiety or potential disaster.


One word of caution. There is a fine line between explicitly stating your expectations and being too directive. You don't want to discourage creativity and individualism. Many times you will be delegating to experts who know more than you about a particular subject or area of specialization.


There is a point where you need to let people do their jobs in their own unique way. In this case talk of outcomes and explain your situation and needs. Be concrete on deadlines and constraints. Be open to suggestions and encourage a dialog. Continue the two-way communication until each party understands the vision.


Methodology can be unique to the individual. Don't be too hung up on how someone does the job. Evaluate the performance and the final results, not the techniques. The exception is, of course, if the individual acts in way that compromises your integrity or runs counter to your organizational values. Otherwise, delegate, relax and let them find their own way.




"The work will teach you how to do it."   Estonian Proverb

 Sometimes there are gaps between what the person has done and what you are now challenging them to do. By delegating tasks, you give others the opportunity to be trained and develop new skills.

Some of you may not want to delegate tasks that you do well because you are under the assumption that no one else can do it better. This is an assumption that will restrict others and keep you overworked. There is no reason why an intelligent, professional adult can't learn a new skill.


If you are serious about delegating duties, you must accompany the assignment with an appropriate amount of instruction. Be a teacher. Put together a lesson plan, communicate clearly a step-by-step process for doing the work, demonstrate the procedure, allow the other person to try segments with you offering suggestions, then get out of the loop and let them learn the task through practice. Give them periodic feedback and be accessible for questions, but do not undermine their confidence by continuously hovering or staying planted close to them.


Remember, that everyone has a different learning curve and that people learn in may different ways. Some people respond better to lessons, written instructions and demonstrations. Others just like to dive into the job and only turn to the trainer when they come to a point where they are stumped.


Overall, be sure you know the difference between mimicking and mastery. Human beings are primates...we are very good at imitating people who show us step by step movements. When a person mimics, however, he/she is not really learning...they are simulating knowledge and parroting your lead.


Mastery takes cognitive participation. The person must think, understand, file it into memory and practice. Once a person has mastered the task, they can be considered trained. They still may not operate at your level, but eventually, they will.


Training is time consuming. Be motivated and encouraged by the knowledge that once a person is trained, you will never have to do the job again.




I think it would be useful at this point to review some of the important steps in the training process. First of all, even when the delegated task is minor, look upon your role as a mentor. Building rapport and trust with the person taking on the duty is important to a free flow of communication and useful feedback. You will have to feel comfortable offering suggestions and critical reactions and they will have to feel comfortable showing confusion, or asking questions or requesting that you accelerate the pace of training. The communication must be two-way and that takes trust and a strong affinity.


The attributes of a trainer.


The most important attributes of a trainer/ teacher/ delegator/ coach/ leader are preparation, planning, perseverance, persistence and patience.


Preparation: Know the job and the expectations. Be familiar with the reasons why the procedure is set up the way that it is. Have all the materials and aids that you need. Once you begin, it is disruptive to reverse or interrupt the work flow. It is necessary to be very systematic.


Planning. Divide the job into individual tasks. Remember, what may be automatic for you will need to be formally introduced and taught to the person just learning the routine. What are the formal and informal responsibilities of the trainee?  Make no assumptions.


Perseverance. Every individual is different. You chose the person you are delegating to based on potential, not necessarily perfect knowledge of this specific job. All humans have a capacity for learning. We only use 10-15% of our brain. Any individual should be able to learn anything. They just have to be encouraged to do so.


Persistence. Sometimes you will have to repeat yourself seven times before the trainee will place the facts into their permanent memory files. Remember that even though it is now easy for you, it does not mean the task is easy.


Patience. Be gentle and generous. A trainee never forgets being treated with respect and patience. Being intolerant or irritable impedes motivation and learning. It also creates anxiety in the trainee and that is difficult to teach through.


You must give the person you are delegating to confidence, but you cannot appear to be condescending. There is a thin line between putting complex routines and procedures into elementary language in order to enhance success and build confidence and being so simplistic that it insults the intelligence of the trainee. Nothing succeeds like success, but that success must be a stretch and must be earned in order to be rewarding.


Show confidence, but do not be premature in turning the entire task over to them.  People learn at different speeds and in different ways. Generally speaking however, the following teaching mode should work for most tasks.


The training procedure:


Place the trainee in the proper position. Demonstrate the entire task, talking your way through the process. Go slow and stress the key points. Begin again and turn the task over to the trainee in short bite sized pieces. As soon as each piece is digested, place another on the trainee's plate. Repeat instructions. Create a feedback loop...provide evaluation within seconds of the behavior. Do so gently without judgement.


Have the trainee talk through the procedure. Share responsibility. Now, stand back and observe. Provide feedback and encouragement. Finally, observe without comment. Intervene only to avoid calamity.


Reduce anxiety. Put the trainee at ease. Calmly repeat any information or technique that the individual did not complete accurately.


In general, build training into units. Demonstrate the task in blocks that make sense. Accompany complicated assignments with written instructions, if possible.


Short term memory keeps information for 20-30 seconds unless rehearsed and practiced. Decay occurs rapidly. Interference is possible as new information pushes out the old or the old information mixes unproductively with the new.


Information loss in the short term memory is permanent. This is convenient since we do not want every passing thought and image to be placed in the permanent long term memory system, but it is frustrating when trying to learn something new.


Rehearsal is necessary using verbal or visual mediators to link the new information to already familiar knowledge. Proper encoding is necessary for long term recall. Having people repeat instructions, connecting it with patterns of behavior they are already familiar with like "hold it like you are gripping a baseball bat," or having them practice over and over will help move the skill from the unfamiliar to the routine.

If rehearsal is interrupted through any sensory distraction, the learning will not be complete. Be sure you allow enough time and try to keep outside distractions outside.


Keep the communication channels open. Ask for feedback yourself. Is the trainee satisfied?  Have them actively participate in the pace and level of instruction.


Once again, I will repeat...when you have trained someone else to do a job, you do not have to do it again!




"Human Nature has been sold short...[humans have] a higher nature which includes the need for meaningful work, for responsibility, for creativeness, for being fair and just, for doing what is worthwhile and for preferring to do it well."  Abraham H. Maslow


Once you have delegated the task, don't hover around watching the individual like a hawk. It shows a lack of confidence. Don't say things like "This is a very difficult assignment and I am not sure you are ready for it, but at this time, I am so overworked I have to take the risk."

Just like any good coach, you select the best person, you orient them with a clear idea of your vision and purpose, you provide opportunities for training, you give them the game plan, then you hand them the ball and go sit on the bench. We know that it is the coaches that will ultimately keep or forfeit their position if the team wins or loses, but they have to stay on the bench during execution all the same.

They can be supporting, cheering, clapping and evaluating, encouraging and providing feedback, but they can't play. The same is true for a good delegator. After you hand someone the ball, go sit on the bench. It shows a high regard for the talent of the chosen person and it is the ideal way to foster growth and maturity.


Even though you delegate tasks, the final responsibility still lies with you. It is very unprofessional to say to someone..."It's not my fault the order did not arrive in time. I gave it to Tom to do and he misplaced the documentation." 

The fact is that you are culpable and answerable for any task that originated with you. You will absorb the blame and, of course, pass on some of the displeasure to the individual you delegated to. You will hold the individual accountable, privately, at a later date. Publicly, you can say, "I will look into the reasons why this order is late, get back to you by 3:00 this afternoon and make every effort to assure you that it will not happen again."

Don't call members of your team idiots and irresponsible imbeciles. Refrain from publicly censuring members of your work group. This will ultimately reflect poorly on you.


"There is no limit to what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit"

When someone comes up with a better way of doing things, a great solution to a perplexing problem or a super idea, be sure to attach the appropriate credit when adopting it or passing it on. It encourages the suggestions of others and enhances creativity. Nothing is worse for morale than seeing someone take a bow for your idea.

If you take on someone's idea as your own, it is probably the last one you will hear. This kind of behavior shuts off the free flow of original thought and wastes time, effort, potential and progress. If you never have a novel idea or an innovative notion but have a reputation for encouraging them out of people, you will be able to bask in the light of their star power.

Mentors, leaders who support creativity, people who encourage others and listen carefully, can change the course of the organization as well as the life of the individual. People never forget someone who helped them reach their full potential.

If you are intimidated by the excellence of others, that will soon not be a problem.  People who seek responsibility, want to grow and learn, wish to make decisions and take on important tasks will be frustrated by your centralized notion of power. Soon you will not find excellence among the people who are left on your team. This diminishes the potential productivity of the whole group and wastes latent talent. Nurture excellence. Look for it in your team. Celebrate it when you find it; develop it if it isn't yet there. Then you will have someone to delegate to.  Then you can take a vacation!



Now if you are my brain surgeon or my airline pilot, there is no room for error so skip right over this part.

In reality, however, most mistakes are not life threatening.They are the result of inexperience, inadequate training, inattention, a deterioration of concentration or a lack of effort.

When someone has a momentary lapse and if it not chronic and if it is not serious, then it is a mistake and it can be a wonderful opportunity to turn the error into a teaching moment. The worst thing in the world is to take the job away from the individual who blundered and give it to someone else or destroy the person's self esteem by publicly showing your impatience and displeasure.


It reminds me of an incident that has become part of corporate folklore. An executive of a major corporation lost 6 million dollars on an unsuccessful campaign. The executive went into his boss to tender his resignation, taking full responsibility for all the errors that were made in the decision making process. His boss refused to accept the resignation saying.."I just spent 6 million dollars training you...why would I let you go now?"

Unless there is a compelling reason to do so, such as the person clearly is not the right choice for the job or the individual had the lapse because of too much to do, or the mistake related to a character flaw, to take the task away from them shows a lack of confidence that can be debilitating. The individual may not be able to shake the humiliation.

The best person in the world to give it back to is the person who just learned what NOT to do. Accompany the negative feedback or critical evaluation with information, advice, additional training and encouragement. Don't treat it like a federal case, but an opportunity to learn and improve.

Incidentally, taking a task away from someone that just made an error may encourage people to be a bit slow or to make mistakes whenever they find a task unpleasant. If they know you will take it away from them, they will soon discover how to get rid of jobs they don't like.

I recall a time when I was attending a meeting and was asked by the executive who convened the meeting to make the coffee. Being the only female in the room, I was particularly sensitive to this request, but I did not want to make a big issue of it. Instead, I went over to Mr. Coffee and proceeded to scoop 15 heaping tablespoons of coffee grounds into the filter. For those of you unfamiliar with the coffee making process, this will produce coffee the consistency of crude oil...and from all reports that is what it tasted like as well. I figured if I made horrible coffee, no one would ask me to make it again. I looked around the table with satisfaction as each of the cups remained full after the first sip.

Unfortunately for me, the executive who delegated the task had attended one of my seminars on delegation. During the break, he came over to me and smiled. He said in a soft voice, "I know what you are doing and it will not work. Follow me."

He proceeded to give me detailed instructions on the art of making a good cup of coffee. He smiled pleasantly and said "I made a dangerous assumption when I assigned you this task. I assumed you knew how to handle this machine. I can see now that it was my mistake...to delegate a task without accompanying it with the requisite training was not a good idea." He proceeded to show me how to make coffee.

Well, it was my job for the entire duration of the conference. There was no graceful way to get out of the task. I comforted myself in the fact that at least I didn't have to take the minutes, and when it comes right down to it I would rather make the coffee than record the flow of discussion at a meeting.

Hold people accountable, to be sure, but allow them to make mistakes. When an individual makes an error or miscalculation, the first inclination of the person who delegated the task is to either take the job back and do it themselves or give it to someone else.

Both behaviors represent a grave lapse in the leader's judgement. First of all, it shows a disregard for the individual's ability to do the assigned task and conveys a lack  of confidence and trust. If they already lack assurance and have low self esteem, this kind of direct action can be an ego damaging event.

Another risky side effect of reclaiming the task is that the individual will know how to get out of any designated responsibility...they will simply do the job in a less than satisfactory manner. They will then have the job taken away from them and they will have one less responsibility. This may not even be deliberate, as it was in my example, but intuitively people are pretty quick at picking up messages from their environment.

Legendary Leaders take the opportunity to turn an error into a teaching moment. They realize that team members who take risks and try new things will be the ones who may periodically stumble. They also know that these people will make excellent, self actualized, entrepreneurial employees. When mistakes become opportunities to learn, it takes away some of the tension and the lesson will assimilate much faster.


"A good leader inspires others with confidence in him/her; a great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves!"

Empower the assigned person with the necessary authority to do the job and be sure they have the information and materials to complete the task. An individual with out resources and without power will not be very effective. This may result in time robbing problems such as duplication, delay and dissatisfaction.

If a person is assigned a task, such as purchasing, they must also be given the authority to make final decisions.  Perhaps they can be given constraints, such as buying materials at their discretion as long as it is under $10,000. This kind of authority builds confidence, experience and saves a great deal of the delegator's time.


When a personal takes on a task, they are hungry to know how well they performed. If they did not do an very good job, even if it is a fairly minor task, be sure to give them critical feedback. Hold people accountable for their performance. If they need to improve, they are not going to make the improvements if they are in the dark as to how they performed.

If they did an excellent job, don't take them for granted. Positive feedback is both encouraging and delicious. People do not hear it often enough. It enhances their self esteem and is a motivator. The human Law of Effect states that people will repeat those behaviors that elicit a favorable response and they will extinguish those behaviors that draw a negative reaction.

If you wish to modify a person's behavior towards maximum productivity and excellence you need to give timely, honest feedback. If they make a mistake, they need to be held accountable. If they do well, they need to hear the applause. If they exceed all expectations, they need a standing ovation.            


These principles give you an overview of the process. The only way you will be a great delegator is to delegate, delegate, delegate.  Your homework in the next few weeks is to delegate four tasks...two from your personal life and two from your professional life.  Good luck.