How to Nail the Art of Delegation

It takes some work, but learning to pass off tasks empowers your team and grows your business.
How to Nail the Art of Delegation
Image credit: Vladimir Vladimirov | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP
Entrepreneur; Founder and CEO, JotForm
7 min read
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Are you the hardest working person on your team?

Your answer to that question doesn’t just reflect your work ethic. It’s also a clue to a potential growth opportunity that could alter the course of your business.

Your grit and tenacity are a big part of what got you where you are today. And chances are, as your company’s leader, you know how to get things done faster and more effectively than your colleagues and direct reports. 

But doing less and leading more can help you be more effective in your role and encourage your team to do their jobs better, too. 

Delegation is an essential tool for all leaders. But sometimes, it feels like more work than it’s worth. If you have to clean up a mess every time you hand off a project, you may as well get it done yourself the first time, right? 

Not exactly. If you don’t hand off to your colleagues and direct reports, your to-do list will become so overwhelming you won’t accomplish anything — and your colleagues and direct reports won’t research their full potential, let alone learn how to support your work when you need it most.

Good delegation, like any skill, requires strategy. Here’s how to nail delegation in your business, so everyone has a chance to grow.

Give up control 

The first step to lightening your load at work: Learn how to surrender.

Control and delegation are opposing forces  and so are control and growth. Holding too tightly to certain duties because you don’t trust others to get them done might seem like a promising path toward success, especially if it means you won’t have to put out fires. 

But in the long haul, you won’t save any time or energy. You’ll end up burned out and resentful, and your team will miss crucial opportunities to grow the skills they need to contribute to your business in a meaningful way. 

Refusing to relinquish control also affects morale. If you aren’t willing to relinquish control, expect your direct reports’ productivity – and their trust in you – to wane. You might call yourself a leader, but you’ll be nothing more than a super-sized individual contributor the more you refuse help simply because you don’t trust your colleagues to do effective work.

It may not come naturally at first, but do your best to shift your focus toward only the tasks you’re essential for. Start by delegating small tasks as a way to shift your perspective and build trust. Then, work your way up to passing off higher-stakes projects to trusted team members.

Over time, as your trust grows alongside your team’s skills, delegation will become an impulse – and everyone will be more productive and effective in their work as a result.

Related: How to Delegate Better and Become a Great Leader

Create a collaborative culture

My company was only a few months old, and up until that point, I’d been managing every component of the business on my own. But the workload had become far too much to handle solo. It was time to bring in some help.

When I brought on my first few team members, I was firm about one thing. We all had job titles, but none of us would be confined to our job descriptions. I wanted a collaborative environment from the start. 

It takes more attention than relegating everyone to their individual job duties, but I’m a firm believer in cross-pollination. 

Giving marketing pros the opportunity to contribute design insights, accounting staff to offer business development input, and entry-level employees to speak up at meetings grows the team dynamic. But it also helps the business grow. 

When other team members are already involved in duties that “aren’t their job,” you’ll be better equipped to delegate seamlessly. Use collaboration as an opportunity to show your team the ropes in areas they might not be familiar with, and if necessary, how to clean up their own messes. 

Don’t micromanage

Don’t jump in immediately to solve a problem at the expense of a potential growth opportunity. It’s faster to nip a problem in the bud, but taking the time to train your employees on how to handle obstacles empowers them to develop their own expertise, a long-term skill that only serves your business. 

What does that mean, practically? One strategy is to ask questions instead of directly instructing. Asking questions encourages critical thinking, but you’ll need to be strategic. 

Generally, open-ended questions encourage the most creativity. For example, say you want to delegate a slide deck you’ll present to potential investors. 

Instead of telling your delegate to use bite-sized bullet points instead of paragraphs, ask a question like “Which method of presenting content will help the investors quickly understand our mission?”

Remember: Great managers shape their team’s thinking instead of merely dictating their plans. 

When you resist the urge to micromanage and instead take the time to coach, your team will still value your perspective and input, but you won’t be a “required pass-through” for every task you delegate.

Related: The Hard Truths to Tell Yourself About Delegating Responsibility

Develop while you maximize

Training your entire team to take on new challenges is a great way to ensure a collaborative culture where delegation comes easily. But it pays to be smart about what you delegate and to whom, especially with critical projects. 

When you hand off a task, don’t just think in terms of who needs more work to do. I like to pass off higher-stakes duties to trusted colleagues who have demonstrated effectiveness in the area I need support — essentially, maximizing my team members’ skill sets. 

For instance, it would be more efficient to entrust a design-oriented individual with a slide deck and a business-minded colleague with a financial task. 

It’s your job as a leader to learn your teammates’ subtleties. Pay attention to their strengths, weaknesses, and range of skills. But don’t neglect to observe potential, too. Just as much as you delegate to maximize a current skill set, aim to develop individuals who display potential in certain areas. 

Aim to be consistent, delegating the same type of projects and tasks to the same people will help them grow in their ability to handle those tasks without your supervision.

As you teach your team members to learn new skills and troubleshoot when they fail, you’re also bolstering their ability to take initiative with and handle new things. Over time, you’ll have more freedom to be indispensable where it matters most — and your entire team will be both happier and more effective.

Related: 5 Myths Preventing You From Delegating Effectively

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