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Delegation Starts in Your Head

Sure, it’s easy to google ‘how to delegate effectively by why are so many of us challenged to actually transfer responsibility to others and instead have lots and lots of good rationale for why we hold onto so much?


Many consider delegation a skill that needs to be mastered. That’s true, but often it’s not the mechanics – the “how to” that’s the hard part, instead what gets in our way is what’s in our heads – the voice inside of us that reinforces the risks or downsides of delegation. Some think of delegation as a weakness, as if by distributing work to others, it signals they we can’t do it ourselves or that we aren’t capable of taking on more, or that it could undermine our power. The fact is: not delegating robs others of their chance to grow, and it robs us of the chance to shift our focus from ‘doing’ to enabling, the latter being a cornerstone of effective leadership. And of course, while there’s always a time investment (as in it’s often faster to do it yourself), that’s just an upfront cost. Becoming an effective delegator ultimately frees up your time and capacity to do other things.

“I was taking on more and more and so overwhelmed. I realized everyone around me was delegating, including delegating to me. That’s was my wake-up call.”
A Sophia Contributor

While in today’s climate we are asked to both manage and do, holding onto all the “do’s” stunts your growth as a manager and leader and those around you. 

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Delegation is a choice. Make it a deliberate priority

    If you find yourself consistently not finding time or not trusting others enough to delegate, it’s probably a good sign that you’re a reluctant delegator. As in, it’s not the situation, it’s you. Many aren’t aware that they’re reluctant delegators because there can be a lot of silence around those who don’t delegate. In part because you’re taking the load for many, so they may not be incentivized to challenge it.

    But others they may be silently frustrated by your lack of delegation because you’re limiting their opportunities to demonstrate their skills, to increase their impact, and to stretch and grow. That means that you can’t only delegate the easy stuff, you have to be prepared to delegate things that matter, which allow them to grow. Yes, that’s the scary stuff to share, but with the right mechanics, like this helpful tool, you can enable their success.

  2. Create some self-awareness

    The easiest way to know you don’t delegate enough is if you relate to the term ‘control freak’. For many of us, control is at the heart of our discomfort with delegation. Know that control is a natural reaction for all of us in the Cram it all in Years – it’s a coping mechanism for the overwhelm in our lives. But it serves no one, least of all you. It stops you from focusing on more productive, value-creating ways to use your time. Just because you’re really skilled or better at something doesn’t mean you should be doing it.If you aren’t wearing the badge of control freak, then ask around – ask your friends, your partner, your colleagues, those who are on your team – if you take on too much and hold onto work you could be distributing. It’s hard to hear, but be sure to thank them for their honesty.

    Or simply take your own inventory. How much do you distribute to others and how much do you hold onto? If the list is short for the former, and long for the latter, think of it as the writing on the wall.

  3. Write down your barriers to delegation and face them head-on

    “There’s not enough time to delegate”: – yes, it takes longer at the beginning but so does toilet training your kids – would you rather keep them in diapers for life? If you invest the right time, the returns on the next project and the next will be realized.

    “I can do it better myself.” Probably, but you’ll be doing it over and over again, not expanding your own skills or your responsibilities (or theirs).

    “It makes me look like…” Do a reality check here. What is the reputational risk? You’re seen as lazy? Or can’t handle a large workload? How real is this? How can you manage this risk? Consider if the way you talk about your contributions could feed a perception that delegating to others is a bad thing.

    “I’ll be less liked by giving someone a task they may not be thrilled to do.” Focusing on being liked is a fool’s errand. While we all liked to be liked, it’s human, people-pleasing risks driving you to make decisions that focus on make people feel good even if it’s not in their best interests, yours or the company’s. Be human, empathetic and likeable, and definitely not a jerk, but chasing “liked” will cause you to lose objectivity.

    “I have no one to delegate to.” Resources are slim these days and few are sitting around with nothing to do. Maybe you don’t have people reporting into you. Consider who else? Can you create a small cross-functional team? Can you do a quid pro quo, i.e. I’ll pick this up down the road, if you support me here? Can you delegate upwards? Is it time to make the case for extra support – even on a short term basis?

    Finally, “I don’t trust the person enough to…” If you wait until you have 100% trust in a person, you’ll be waiting a long time. More often than not, we’re working with new people, who haven’t proven themselves over and over again. You have to lean into trust. Assume you can trust them, but also set up a system of accountability as a safety mechanism.


  1. Set clear expectations. Set and be clear on the standard you’re looking for. Be reasonable. You likely have more experience than they do, and if you have perfectionist tendencies, be careful not to impose them on others. It’s important that you can clearly articulate the outcome you desire. Check for clarity. But don’t dictate. Hold them accountable but make sure there’s a feedback loop designed in. Be transparent in your feedback.

  2. Align the right person to the right task: Do they have the skills to get the job done? Can you transfer the skills they need? What’s in it for them? Find a way to make this a growth opportunity for them – whether it’s skills, exposure, access to a plum project or team.

  3. Be patient: you definitely need to provide clear goals, instructions, defined timelines, etc. but know this: odds are the person who you’re handing it to won’t be as efficient as you and will probably have a few missteps along the way. Remember if you jump in and save the day, you’ve deprived them of the opportunity to learn, to problem solve, to manage the consequences. Plus, you’ll crush their morale. They’ll be on a learning curve, so give them the chance learn. (Sound familiar? You’re dealing with the same stuff with your children!)

SHOW GRATITUTE. When the job is done, be appreciative, positive and encouraging.


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The Sophia Project is our corporate program that unleashes working parent talent through Intentional Subtraction.