Dealing the Cards Wisely: Five Ways NOT to Delegate Tasks and Responsibilities

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – George S. Patton, U.S. Army General during World War II.

As business leaders, we’ve all had it pounded into us that we should delegate work to others, so we can more easily complete all our responsibilities. The advice is worth hearing repeatedly, since all high-level jobs come with too many responsibilities for just one person. Anyone who tries to use the old “if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself” tactic or who micromanages everything under their control has made a terrible mistake. The C-Suite builds high-level jobs with delegation in mind. You’re meant to delegate most of the responsibilities necessary to achieve your collective objectives.

Typically, your teachers and mentors advise you to push every task as low on the totem pole as possible. Some people even tell you how to do it. Fewer, however, tell you how NOT to delegate, probably assuming you can reverse their recommendations to get the opposites. Give these options some consideration:

  1. Don’t assign tasks to someone unsuited for them. Unless you’re very new at the job, you already have some idea of who’s best at what. Carefully weigh who has the qualifications and workload for each task; don’t just hand them out willy-nilly. If your team members must educate themselves on how to do tasks, it will take longer and cost more to complete. The exception is when you provide training as part of their normal jobs.

  2. Don’t assign tasks without detailed instructions. Also called “dump and run,” this happens when you just pile stuff on someone’s plate without giving them instructions and deadlines. They need to know the details of what you want done, some idea of how to handle it if it’s not a common task, and especially the deadline and how you want it presented. Willingly answer questions if they need help.

  3. Don’t force your own way of doing the task on the delegate. It may not be your way, but as long as the final result is achieved, don’t worry about how it gets done. Let the team member decide how to do it and stop worrying. Military officers and NCOs have worked this angle for long as they’ve existed. The only exception comes when there’s only one way to do something. Give any necessary guidance in the beginning and get out of the way.

  4. Don’t delegate something that takes longer to explain than do, UNLESS it’s a task that needs done regularly. Then it’s worth taking the time to explain it once in detail, letting your delegate take it from there.

  5. Don’t delegate tasks that require a personal touch, like disciplining, firing people, recognition and rewards, and performance appraisals. I’ve heard tales of managers going on vacation and having their second-in-command fire someone while they were away, just so they didn’t have to do it. Similarly, in a famous Cheers episode, Norm was hired as a Corporate Axe, so none of the executive of his company would ever have to fire anyone.

Delegating is a necessary part of your job once you reach management levels, so consider the tips above whenever you put on your delegating hat. And set aside all your possessiveness; I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t keep a project or task just because you enjoy it, unless it’s something only you can or should do. Even if you’re great at it, if it gets in the way of more important tasks, delegate it anyway. Maybe the new person can do it only 80% as well as you can, but the savings in time and dollars still makes it more efficient to delegate. Remember, your time is worth a lot more per hour.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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