The Art & Science of Delegation

Of all the abilities an executive leader must possess, delegation may be the most crucial. Delegation is intrinsically connected to every aspect of executive leadership. Find a leader who delegates effectively, and you’ll likely find a company with high retention of top performers, high engagement, and healthy work culture. Additionally, you’ll find a leader who’s not stretched too thin and is able to stay focused on the company’s vision, strategy, and execution.

Even so, many executive leaders still wrestle with comprehending the importance of delegation and how to effectively implement it on a daily basis.

Delegating: an Art and a Science

A lot of ink has been spilled to explain what delegation is and its role within companies, and rightfully so. A leader’s ability to delegate reveals both their leadership worldview and the potential trajectory of the company.

But what is delegation, really?

For many leaders, delegation is nothing more than shifting responsibility from the leader’s plate to an employee’s. Such a reductionistic perspective is likely to cause more harm than good to both a leader and their team. Leaders need to see delegating as a simple yet multifaceted discipline connected not only to the size of a leader’s workload but also to their responsibilities to develop employees into leaders, foster a healthy work culture, and increase overall company output.

As one PROMARK coach shared:

“…delegation is both an art and a science. The art is aligning a delegated task to stretch the right person at the right time. The science is using it to optimize workload distribution for increased output. Balancing the art and science is the skill to be mastered.”

Before we look at how leaders can improve their ability to balance the art and science of delegating, let’s look at some of the reasons leaders fail to delegate.

What Keeps Leaders from Delegating?

When it comes to delegating, the stakes are obviously high. Leaders who don’t delegate encounter multiple problems: high turnover rates of top employees, regularly missed deadlines, low engagement scores, personal symptoms of burnout, and a lackluster reputation as a leader. So what keeps leaders from delegating?

  • Fear of not being in control

  • Lack of confidence or trust in team members who report to them

  • The concern of missing out on accolades

  • Anxiety in potentially revealing a weakness

  • Unwillingness to train employees, creating unnecessary competition between project completion metrics & investing in team members

Although more could be added to this list, most additions would fall under a recurring theme of the “inward-focused leader.” An “inward-focused leader” allows their leadership habits to be shaped by fear of failure or anxiety over their reputation. In other words, their commitment to self-preservation becomes all-encompassing and diminishes perceived opportunities to release tasks, and the subsequent authority, to others. These leaders fail to see the opportunities inherent in delegating for those who report to them: opportunities to grow their skill sets and respond to the challenge.

Another reason a leader may fail to delegate is they’ve never been trained to. Many leaders, especially newer ones, with a “my way or the highway” approach may seem to lack flexibility in how a project could be accomplished because they’re familiar with the methods and successes they’ve utilized in the past.

There’s good news, though. Whether you wrestle to give up control or you’ve never been trained to delegate (or both), every leader can grow in their delegating abilities.

5 Ways to Improve Your Delegating

Every great leader intentionally seeks to improve how she delegates. Consider these five strategies to improve your delegating abilities.

  1. Hire and Onboard the Best Talent: It may seem obvious, but many leaders still don’t see that delegating begins long before a task is allocated. Delegating truly begins during the hiring process. Leaders who practice proactive delegation bring on team members who are willing to rise to a challenge, not merely accomplish a task.

  2. Consider Continuous Development Opportunities through Dialogue: Employees want to be challenged. Nearly nine out of 10 millennials—the generation making up most of the workforce—say on-the-job development is important in their careers.1 Dialogue with employees to discover potential delegating and development opportunities. Ask what they love about their work and how they’d like to contribute to the company. Use their answers to assess when they’re the right person for a project when it arises. By delegating, leaders bolster employee development through strategic growth opportunities.

  3. Provide Clear Expectations: Unclear expectations for deliverables and uncertain assignment limitations create a continuum of questions, uncertainty, and disappointment. Although it’s best to avoid being overly rigid with a process, clear expectations instill confidence and create forward momentum, so projects are accomplished in a timely and budget-conscious manner.

  4. Commit to Check-in Parameters: Excessive oversight undermines many of the benefits of delegating (expressed trust in employees, more time for a leader to tend to bigger ticket tasks, etc.), but collaborating with employees on an appropriate check-in system helps generate an ethos of independence and trust while also allowing a leader to monitor and assess a task or project’s progress.

  5. Establish an Effective Feedback Loop: Leaders desiring to improve their delegating abilities may benefit from external feedback from a manager or coach as part of the coaching relationship. Learning to delegate can intimidate any leader; therefore, trusted insight and feedback from a safe source can help encourage leaders as they develop healthier responses to fear and establish healthier leadership behaviors.

Whether you’re a leader who wrestles to give control or you’ve never been trained to delegate (or both), intentional coaching can empower you with the strategies to become a thriving leader of a thriving company marked by the kinds of outcomes from careful, purposeful delegation.

The Best Leaders Delegate

The best leaders proactively delegate. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it”.

Improving your delegating abilities is one of the most beneficial and profitable skills you can develop as an executive.

Whether you wrestle with delegating or you want to see the benefits of improving your capacity to delegate, Promark would love to chat with you. Contact us today.


1 Brandon Rigoni and Bailey Nelson, For Millennials, Is Job-Hopping Inevitable?

The Art & Science of Delegation
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