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The Big Idea: Delegation is a superpower that helps great leaders get more done faster. Few leaders do it effectively. Today’s article will provide some best practices to improve your delegation skills.

In 2014, Gallup studied the entrepreneurial talent profiles of 143 CEOs included on the Inc. 500 list, an annual ranking of America’s fastest-growing private companies.

Of the 143 Inc. 500 CEOs Gallup surveyed, those with high delegator talent posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751%–112 percentage points greater than those CEOs with limited or low delegator talent.

CEOs with high delegator talent also generated 33% greater revenue in 2013 than those with low or limited levels of the talent: $8 million versus $6 million, respectively.

Clearly, effective delegation is an essential leadership skill and drives better business outcomes.

When we enter the workforce, we rarely think about delegation because we have no one to delegate to, so it never occurs to us to develop the skill.

The need to learn more about delegation typically arises out of desperation to survive a busy season at work, and can often come soon after someone is newly promoted or takes on a bigger role.

For that reason, many leaders develop lifelong poor habits of delegation because they end up frantically pitching projects to their team members with unclear direction and frazzled energy. It’s all too easy to fall into a routine and never change our habits around delegation.

I know this because I’m sure I did it this way for years, and I still need reminders that effective delegation requires persistent intentionality and course-correcting.

I’ve learned that we are seldom as clear as we think we are being when the task is completely clear to us—but brand new to someone else.

And great delegation habits are vitally important for leaders who want to go to the next level and increase their impact.

Global leadership expert John Maxwell says that extending our influence through others may be the single best way to increase our leadership impact—and one of the best ways to do this is through effective delegation.

Leaders who delegate really well may appear to have some insane ability to get tons of projects accomplished, yet don’t seem stressed out, which can often baffle or irritate other resentful observers in the organization.

The fact is, delegation is a skill, and there are behaviors you can develop that will make it more or less effective.

But that means we’ve got to get off autopilot, develop awareness of our unconscious behaviors, and practice effective systems of delegation.

Why people don’t delegate, or don’t delegate well

  1. They fear losing control: Many leaders are control freaks or perfectionists that have a lot of trouble letting go. They want everything done the way that they would do it. I recommend the free positive intelligence saboteurs test to see if you have any of these tendencies. By the way, this will also show up in your home life and cause problems with marriage or parenting.
  2. They have “work martyr syndrome.” Some leaders get too many of their needs for significance met in the workplace and may overwork themselves as an unconscious way to get their existential need for importance or validation met. Do some soul searching or ask a good friend to give you feedback on this.
  3. They are too busy and don’t take the time. This is one of the most common. You must remind yourself that delegation takes a lot of time initially, and then should create time for you down the road. If you are chronically busy and overloaded, this is a clue that you don’t delegate well.
  4. They allow your team to “delegate up”. Some leaders come from childhoods that cause them to develop poor boundaries or take care of others. This tendency can cause them to take on too many tasks and never say No. Sometimes this even creates a situation where the leader is taking frequent tasks from their employees and unconsciously assuming the caretaker role at work.
  5. They burn people out with deadlines that aren’t realistic. Some leaders delegate a lot of tasks but set such short deadlines due to the desire to create that “sense of urgency,” but then leave their best employees burned out and exhausted. If you have a track record of losing rockstar employees to other jobs, you may need to take a look at your behavior with this.

Take action now

  1. What can you and ONLY YOU do? Great leadership begins with recognizing the things that you and only you as the leader can do, and the behaviors you do regularly that create your greatest results. If you haven’t taken this step, I recommend you do a one-page business plan, and go back and read my post on the 80/20 Rule. Your administrative assistant cannot set the company vision and mentor new leaders, make sure your best time is going to that kind of task.
  2. Then identify WHAT to delegate. Once you know what you should and should not delegate, then you can begin to identify lower impact tasks that could easily be done by someone else.
  3. Then identify the RIGHT PEOPLE to delegate to. You’ve all probably experienced this….Picking the wrong person takes three times as long as doing if yourself, then you vow never to delegate again because you are so frustrated. But this might happen because you did not carefully select the right task for the right person.
  4. TEACH the process carefully at the beginning. This is a common misstep by busy leaders. They simply don’t take the time to provide clear instructions and allow for questions.
  5. Carefully DEFINE THE OUTCOME you want. Once you teach the process, make sure you explain what a successful outcome would look like. Be careful not to micromanage if you have these tendencies. Talented team members will leave if micromanaged.
  6. Explain the WHY. People work harder when they understand how their task is connected to the greater good of the organization. It’s your job as the leader to make this connection clear to them.
  7. Make sure to follow up and provide FEEDBACK. Even if leaders do the first steps well, they often get busy again and forget to follow up. Effective follow up and course correcting is essential since it’s rare for someone to do exactly what you wanted after the first try. I recommend setting several one-to-one meetings in the calendar as place holders.
  8. Say THANK YOU. Organizational research clearly shows that employees who don’t feel appreciated leave. Don’t forget this vital step of circling back to let the person know how much their help contributed to the organizational win, and show genuine appreciation.

Keep reminding yourself that effective delegation takes a rather large investment of your time up front, but over time increases your leadership results exponentially if you do it well. As you delegate, I recommend you reference this checklist every time and identify areas of weakness for you.

Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Want more? Suggested Resources Below

  1. Gallup Study on Delegation


Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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