The Art of Delegation: Why We Struggle and How to Overcome It

It seems so obvious right? You have way too much to do, too many fires to put out and too little time to do “high-value strategic work”. But there is: delegation. Yes, yes, you know it’s important to do and you know it will save you time and help others develop new skills. So why aren’t you doing it?

“I know I should ask for help, but I don’t want to be pushy.”

“My team already has more than enough to do.”

“I don’t want to be the kind of leader that keeps asking for things.”

“I have to lead by example.”

“I don’t want to be a burden to the team.”

The Delegation Dilemma

We don’t want to risk piling on resentment or burnout; we hate to be perceived as cruel taskmasters and we dislike imposing on others… but our reluctance to delegate leads to a whole new set of problems.

Do you relate to these signs?

You spend almost all of your time in “reactive mode”, putting out fires or responding to requests, compromising on the critical time necessary for big picture thinking. Important work falls to the wayside while stress continually piles on from “never being able to catch up”, the team’s progress hits a premature ceiling, and you feel a sense of outsized responsibility to be the glue who “holds the team together”. Nodding your head? It’s high time to make a change and delegate more effectively.

The psychology behind delegation resistance

Understanding why we struggle to delegate can provide the insight needed for change:

  • Loss of Control: Some managers cling to tasks believing that they can do it better themselves, and fearing a loss of control if they entrust these tasks to others.
  • Perfectionism: Unrealistic standards, coupled with a fear that no one else can meet them, drive managers to shoulder tasks alone.
  • Fear of Failure: Delegating puts reputations on the line, creating anxiety that failure reflects inadequacy on the delegator and the delegatee.
  • Imposter Syndrome: Delegation can be seen as relinquishing authority or expertise and may feed into fears of being perceived as “not good enough”.
  • Desire for Likability: Managers who are used to receiving admiration for work well done may also find it a challenge to see that applause transferred and showered on their team members instead.
  • Time Concerns: Teaching someone else might seem more time-consuming than completing tasks oneself, particularly when time is scarce.
  • Past Experiences: Negative experiences with delegation – either as a subordinate or a manager – can influence personal delegation decisions as well.

The power of delegation

Despite these challenges, the importance of delegation cannot be overstated. Not only does effective delegation relieve a manager’s overwhelming workload, but it also fosters team growth and development. In fact, according to Gallup, CEOs who excel at delegation generate 33 percent higher revenue. That’s a lot!

Delegating is intentional leadership

While it’s evident that delegation is a critical managerial skill, it’s not an easy feat. It’s a skill that demands a healthy dose of self-awareness, practice and refinement over time. As managers grow adept at this art, they become more effective, strategic, and transformative leaders. In fact, they become leaders of leaders.

The world needs more empowering leaders

We all know the power of empowering leadership. Delegation is a transformative practice for us as managers and the teams we lead. By discovering and addressing our unique underlying reasons for delegation hesitancy, we can unlock our potential for growth, free up our time for strategic pursuits, and build a team, or teams, that thrives on a common goal. So let’s be intentional about it.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen Le, Lead Litigator