Why Managers Fail To Delegate At Work

Do you hesitate whenever you think about delegating a task? Or have you ever wondered why managers fail to delegate?

Sometimes delegation feels like an exercise in frustration. I get it! I run into the same problem with my Virtual Assistant. I know there are many things she could do that would save me tons of time, yet I don’t pass them along.

It’s not because I don’t trust her, it’s because I don’t want to take the time to explain it all to her. I feel like by the time I finish showing her what to do, I could have the task done myself.

That’s the crazy cycle we put ourselves in. Because while yes, it would take some time to teach her what to do, it would only take that time once. My VA would know how to do the task forever. I wouldn’t have to invest that time over again.

But, each time I avoid putting in the training time, I increase my losses. Because the next time I need it done I’m back to the same place. Does that sound even remotely familiar?

Come on, admit it. We rationalize not delegating. And it’s hurting our productivity as well as compromising our ability to lead. Effective leadership requires delegation.

I know I’m not the only one because my clients tell me this too. Delegation is the best solution. They want to delegate. They know they need to delegate… but they don’t.  Delegation is actually much harder than it sounds. Here’s why managers fail to delegate.

Why Are Managers Afraid to Delegate?

In some cases, it’s fear.

Fear that if you give up control of any portion of the project you will lose control of all of it.

Fear that if the other person doesn’t do the job at the level you expect, it will reflect poorly on you.

And finally, fear that if the other person does a superior job, you may be overshadowed.

Those fears are usually subtle and running through your subconscious. But the result is the same. We hoard our work.

In other cases, its guilt. You feel as if you are dumping on your colleagues or subordinates.  Our ego makes us believe we should never ask someone else to do something we wouldn’t do ourselves.

But let’s get real. Delegation is a necessary part of staff development. The people you are delegating to need opportunities to stretch their skills and they need the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. Delegation allows you to mentor and train your subordinates in a way that will ultimately help them progress.

If you’re in a leadership role and you hesitate to delegate, you’re not leading.

Delegation is a Critical Step

Now you understand why managers fear to delegate, it’s about taking action to change it.

The first step to effective delegation is to understand the players and the goal.  Who is on your team? What are the strengths of each of the people on the team?

Levels of Delegation

It is important you know the “delegation level” of each member of the team.  Think of it as a check list.

  • Is this person capable of doing this task?
  • How often do I need this person to check in with me?
  • Am I piling on more work than this person can handle?
  • Is there a backup in case this person falls behind?
  • Am I providing clear instruction on the details of the project?
  • Did I provide the person with an opportunity to share their concerns about the project.

It will be your responsibility to understand the level of skill and experience that the person has. It is a sign of good leadership when you delegate to someone and push them slightly above their comfort level, while providing the direction they need along the way.

Don’t Always Use Top Performers

Another trap to avoid is punishing your best performers. When you have a difficult task to perform, one that might take extra work, extra hours and extra attention, you naturally want to delegate it to the top performers.

This is a problem on two levels:

  1. If you do this consistently, your top performers become over worked and burned out and feel unappreciated while your poor performers are rewarded with easy projects.
  2. Your poor performers are never given an opportunity to improve. So, you end up completing a project but not helping your staff.

If you remember to delegate to the right person, explain all the pieces of the project to that person (not just the ones pertaining to their task) and you follow up appropriately, delegation can be a powerful tool.

Successful leadership demands successful delegation. Stop hesitating and start delegating.

To work more deeply on why managers fail to delegate and what you can do to shift your habits, let’s chat. I’m happy to discuss your circumstances with you to see if coaching is a good fit. Every day, more people are realizing that having a coach is an important part of leadership development.

If you would like to have a private executive coaching conversation, please schedule an appointment with me here.


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