"Tracey’s Takeaways" is a regular feature that focuses on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.

Delegation—assigning responsibility and authority to someone else to complete a project or task—is a critical management skill and one that often takes time to perfect. Do it well and you regain some of your time and help your team develop. Do it poorly and you will likely frustrate yourself and your team. This is not an article about why leaders don't delegate enough (maybe I'll tackle that in a future article), but about why delegation doesn't always go well and three things you can do to help fix that.

Let's start with what can go wrong. Delegation can suffer for many reasons, but these make my top 5 list:

  1. Failure by the manager to set clear expectations about the job to be done, level of authority the person has to make decisions, or the actual outcome that is desired.
  2. Not laying the groundwork with the appropriate resources, information, time, etc. needed to do the job.
  3. Delegating and then walking away.
  4. Choosing the wrong person for the job.
  5. Inability of the manager to cede control … otherwise known as micromanaging.

3 Steps to Better Delegation

1) Start with being explicit about what you are delegating and why. The work to be done should be clearly defined with enough background information, data, time and resources provided that someone can step in and do it successfully. Don't make assumptions that they know all you know or that they understand what you want. Take the time to explain the "why" of the project, too—why is this important, why it needs to be done now, and why your employee was selected to work on it—to help ensure both understanding and commitment.

2) Select the right person. Just turning to whoever is available at the moment is not a good strategy. Neither is basing your selection on someone that you'd like to see grow, but have little evidence of their actual ability to do the work required. You'll want to think about the specific tasks to be done and the knowledge and skills needed to accomplish those tasks. Then, do a mental scan of your team for the best fit. Or, consider asking for volunteers and have the candidates tell you why they are the right choice for the project.

3) Monitor and guide without micromanaging. Delegating a task doesn't mean that you have given up being accountable for results. So, it is appropriate to monitor progress and ask for updates periodically to ensure everything is on track. You can save yourself time, energy and resources by catching mistakes early on and then providing appropriate guidance or redirection. Those mistakes are the "teachable moments" when you may have to resist the urge to step in and take over. Do that, and you're moving into micromanagement, which often sends the wrong signal to your employees—that you don't trust them. Provide input and then step back and see if it is taking hold. If it's not, then you may have to acknowledge this was not the right person for the project.

So, I'd like to challenge you to take a moment now and think about your to-do list. What will you delegate? I hope my three tips are helpful. I'd love to hear your insights for better delegation, too, so email me at Tracey.Steiner@nreca.coop.

For more on delegation, I'd offer these suggestions:


Tracey Steiner is NRECA's senior vice president for education and training. Her 25-year career at NRECA has spanned a variety of roles starting in communications and marketing positions then 15 years as an attorney focusing on cooperative governance and public policy issues before moving to Education & Training in 2012.

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