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Delegate but don’t abdicate

Here are four tips for responsibly delegating a project.

5 min read


Delegate but don't abdicate


Let’s assume that you want to delegate a task that’s been sitting on your desk since forever. You know what needs to get done and have (finally) found (and/or trained) the right person to do it. Let’s call this person Sally.

You sit down with Sally to plan the process. The two of you review everything from deliverables to timeframe. You work together to set goals and feel like you’re on the same page and ready to get moving. It would great if, at that point, you could return to your desk and just focus on what you need to be doing while relying on Sally to do her work.

But it doesn’t quite work that way. For Sally to succeed, she’ll need several other things from you in the days and weeks ahead.

One is to be empowered. If you want Sally to step squarely into your shoes, even for an isolated role, she must be empowered with authority. This may include a change of title, a memo to staff and/or an announcement at a team meeting.

Either way, you need to let people know that you have asked Sally to perform an important task and would like everyone’s support and cooperation as needed. Your backing provides instant credibility and will allow Sally to do her job with confidence. In addition, you’ll need to give her access to required resources and information.

Two is to monitor her progress. As things move forward, make sure to check in regularly. The best way to do this is by building meetings into the process from the outset. Make up from the beginning, for example, to meet every Monday at 10 a.m. to see how things are going. This will give you the information that you need while maintaining a natural feel. When you meet, it’s not to look over her shoulder or because you see a problem. You’re just executing on how the plan was set up, which will create a more natural feel.

Such an approach helps both parties. It’s helpful to you because you need to know what’s going on. For her part, Sally wants to be able to share her feedback as well. She also wants to know that her leader cares and didn’t just dump things on her and walk away. Rather, she’ll feel that you really care and are willing to support her along the way.

Three is to offer help as needed. No matter how capable and competent Sally becomes, there are going to be times where she will need your help. As leaders, we need to be willing to assist when needed to keep things moving in the right direction. Not to take over, of course. Not to helicopter in and reassume control. Leaders do this often and it is a huge mistake. Resist the temptation to jump in and take over because you will lose Sally’s trust quickly. And no one else is going to want to assume projects for you because you’re undermining the very relationships that you’re looking to create.

However, if you come in with an attitude of assistance (saying things like “How can I help you? It seems like you’re struggling over here.”) then Sally will know that she can allow herself to be vulnerable and turn to you for guidance and support along the way, as well as accepting it from you when offered.

Four is to correct or redirect as needed. Though we want to avoid becoming the meddling boss, there are times when you may need to do more than offer a few pointers. If you see that things are starting to veer off the rails, you’ll need to figure out how to correct or redirect the process to put it back on track.

In that case you would say, “You know, Sally, I love the effort you’re putting in. I really appreciate what you’ve accomplished so far. But there are some things that need to be fixed here, and if we don’t fix it now, it’s only going to get worse over time.” Then go ahead and do what you can to redirect her.

And if, for whatever the reason, you are not able to do so, then you may need to pull the project back and try again.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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