How To Delegate and Get More Done (aka How to Let Go)

You can read articles about the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership or how important it is for bosses to make their employees feel valued

But there’s one vital leadership quality that trumps the rest because, without it, even the best leaders will struggle to get anything done. The quality we’re talking about is delegation in leadership

Delegating at its core is relatively simple: It means assigning the right responsibilities to the right people (or technologies), thus sharing the workload in an equitable and efficient manner. 

But you’d be amazed at how common it is for leaders to struggle (or downright refuse) to delegate work. 

Those rare leaders that do know how to delegate are the ones who smash their targets and whose employees adore and advocate for them. 

So why is the ability to delegate so rare? And what can you do to start fostering healthy delegation in your career? 

That’s exactly what we’ll discuss in this article.


The core issue: why is delegating so hard?

If you ever encounter a boss or colleague who can’t bring themselves to delegate work, it’s likely from at least one of three issues with their leadership style. And for the record, many folks will have to deal with all three of these issues before they can start delegating properly.


Reason #1: They can’t let go of control 

Most leaders don’t get to where they are in their careers by giving up work. Usually, it’s just the opposite: They took on a lot of work to succeed. 

Perhaps they started the business themselves, or they climbed up the ladder over time. In either scenario, they’ve put in a lot of work and time to get ahead. 

As people move up in their careers, they inevitably gain more responsibilities. But even as the work piles up, for many, it feels very unnatural to pass work to others. 

So they don’t—until they’re drowning in work and struggling to get anything done.


Reason #2: They lack trust in others

“I’m the only one that can do it how it should be done.” 

This issue may sound a bit narcissistic. But there’s often some ego involved when someone won’t delegate tasks because they don’t think other people can do it correctly.

But in some cases, this feeling may be warranted. There may be jobs where no other current hire can do the tasks correctly because they lack the training or knowledge. Or something about one’s job may be so unique, no one else can do it. 

However, there are some leaders who will never be satisfied with others’ work, even if it’s done well. They’ll be hypercritical and often refuse to delegate (or take back their delegation) when it’s not done exactly how they want.


Reason #3: They paradoxically have no time to delegate

Delegating work often requires an upfront time investment. You’ll need to set aside time to train someone else how to do what you need them to do. Then you’ll need to set aside more time to check their work and provide feedback. 

Eventually, you’ll earn back that time and more once the person you’ve delegated work to becomes more comfortable with the new tasks. But unfortunately, many leaders never realize this because the upfront time investment seems impossible. 

They may say something like, “It would take more time to train someone else to do it than it would to just do it myself.” And they’re probably right—but unless it’s a one-off task, this thought process will prevent them from experiencing the many benefits that come with the ability to delegate.


What happens when you delegate?

There will inevitably be some uncomfortable moments when you or your manager begin delegating work. But the benefits of knowing how to delegate work are hard to deny.


Burnout goes way down

Make no mistake: Failure to delegate almost always leads to burnout. Without delegation, leaders take on too much work themselves. Soon they’ll begin experiencing the unpleasant side effects of burnout: irritability, depression, isolation, and dissatisfaction with work

Due to their workload, it’s also likely that they’ll have less time to dedicate to managing their team and growing professionally. 

Failure to delegate has a truly toxic trickle-down effect that will eventually impact not only the leader, but those working with them as well. The ability to delegate can alleviate that pressure from the top, helping everyone on the team breathe easier.


People learn new things and build new skills 

Delegating work properly helps others in the organization flourish. 

Those who refuse to delegate work are essentially hoarding growth opportunities—they aren’t giving their fellow employees the chance to pick up new skills, learn new lessons, and gain more experience. 

But once tasks are delegated, people within the organization have opportunities that before only fell to one person—and that can make for a much stronger team and business overall.


Feelings of camaraderie go up 

When a leader delegates work to an employee, they’re essentially saying: “I trust you to take care of this job that used to be my sole responsibility.” 

That’s excellent for morale in general, but it also allows colleagues to foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration that was likely missing before. 

With more people contributing to a wider variety of work, employees will feel more ownership of various projects, find it easier to celebrate each other’s achievements, and pull together to overcome challenges.


New perspectives bring new results 

People from different walks of life will have different ways of looking at things, which is one of the reasons why having a diverse workforce is so valuable.

If a leader has been doing the same task for some time, there’s a good chance they may not be doing it as efficiently or effectively as possible. They may be overlooking issues that are causing problems elsewhere in the business. But when work is delegated to others, it opens the opportunity for a fresh set of eyes to find ways to improve processes and eliminate inefficiencies.


Things get done faster and better

Take everything we’ve mentioned on this list so far, and it’s easy to see how delegation can make a business more efficient. 

Instead of one person getting burnt out trying to take care of far too many tasks, you have a cohesive team contributing to group success. And that means a faster, better business overall.


4 ways to be better at delegation

Is lack of delegation a problem in your workplace? Whether you’re a leader approaching burnout or you work for someone who doesn’t know how to delegate, here are a few methods anyone can use to improve delegation and get sh*t done. 


1. Use this exercise to identify what can be delegated

If you’re taking a look at your to-do list and can’t figure out what to give up to others, here’s an exercise you can try. You may want to do this in a spreadsheet, so you can rearrange the list or use color coordination: 

  • Make a list of everything you (or the person in leadership you’re helping) has to do. Try to be exhaustive—include tasks that take only a few moments or those that you’re sure you’ll never pass on.
  • Rearrange your list so things that take up the most time are at the top.
  • Starting from the top, put a symbol (like a small star) next to anything you’re certain cannot be done by anyone else. 
  • Put another symbol (like a small square) next to anything you really enjoy doing and don’t want to hand over to anyone else. 
  • Go through the entire list and underline things you aren’t good at or don’t enjoy doing at all.

You now have a prioritized list of things you can and cannot delegate. 

Starting from the top of the list, anything with an underline and no symbols next to it should be the first to go to other people. 

Non-underlined items that have no symbols next to them should be next on your list.

Items with more than one symbol should probably stay within your remit for the foreseeable future.


2. Build briefs and contingency plans

Here’s the hard truth about delegation: Something will go wrong at some point. 

People taking on new tasks that once belonged to you aren’t going to nail it on their first try. They’re going to mess something up, and there may be some consequences (like an unhappy client or miffed boss). 

But this is a necessary part of delegation, and you can take measures ahead of time to mitigate these sorts of issues. 

The first thing you should do is learn how to write a thorough brief. If you hand over tasks without crystal-clear instructions on how to get them done, you’ll inevitably see more mistakes. 

Create a brief that outlines the objective of the task at hand and thorough details of the process you currently use to carry it out. If it feels like you’re giving too much detail, you’re probably right on the money. Provide examples of how it’s been done before, as well as guidance on who to speak to when they have questions. 

In addition to providing thorough briefs, think carefully about what could potentially go wrong. 

For example, perhaps you’re concerned that clients may notice a change in the quality of work as your delegate is learning how to do the task properly. Rather than waiting for this worst-case scenario to happen, you can plan ahead by being open and honest with the client, saying something like, “As we bring on new team members to help with this, it would be best if we set up a few meetings to make sure any issues are addressed right away.” 


3. Don’t forget about techno-delegation

Delegating work doesn’t always mean handing tasks over to another person. Sometimes, there may be a technological solution that can help clear some of the work off your plate. 

For example, if one of your tasks at work is creating social media posts, there are plenty of tools that can help you design, write, and schedule posts in advance. And as AI tools continue to improve, you may find that leaning on ChatGPT and other bots can help clear your plate and push back the threat of burnout.


4. Make yourself available for questions and feedback 

It may feel good to finally get rid of some of the work that’s been piling up, but don’t turn your back on it once you’ve handed it over. Make sure you let whoever is taking over your tasks know that you’re available to answer any questions they have.  Set up meetings and processes as needed for providing feedback. 

The more open and available you make yourself, the more likely you won’t have to fall back on your contingency plans. Make patience and clarity of communication your top priority. Soon the painful part of delegation will be over, and you can sit back and enjoy more breathing room in your workday.