Incito Leadership and Executive Coaching


Delegation: The Art of Letting Go


Have you considered that if your organization needs you that you’re a business risk? The lack of ability to delegate to your team also means that when you’re suddenly not there, the company, your team and your clients and stakeholders will all suffer. Everyone needs to go on vacation and take sick or other leave. Everyone leaves their role eventually whether it is a promotion, finding an opportunity in another organization or retirement.

Delegation is an essential leadership skill, and I’m not talking about blind delegation (that’s abdication). It begins with the self-awareness that you have tasks (or parts of tasks) that could be done by others and then requires you effectively assign those tasks to someone else with clear expectations of the desired outcomes and timelines for completion.

Cues to watch for

Here are some of the things you might be telling yourself that are cues you may need to delegate more:

It’s all up to me. This is rarely if ever true, especially in an organization. Your team is there to support you and you are there to support your leader. It’s never all up to you.

I’m the only one who cares. If you truly care more than everyone else, you need to step back and not get wound up about it. Recognize the limit of the impact you can make.  It won’t be your problem in the future, so what do you need to do now to prepare those around you for the future.

It’s too big of a risk to let them fail. It’s a bigger risk if you suddenly aren’t there.

Raise your self-awareness

As an executive coach, I often ask clients to track their time for a week or two to understand where they are truly spending their time, it’s often not what they think. We do it in a simple review of the day using the Eisenhower Urgent/Important Matrix. Or, for leaders with lots of projects and to-do lists, we categorize the list using the same matrix. We often find most of their work is day to day firefighting their own and others fires of which most could be delegated, or they could minimize their involvement. 

Next, I ask them to explore each activity and whether it could be delegated or if a piece of it could be delegated. For example, you may not be able to delegate signing your team’s expenses but you can get them to fill out their expense reports and organize their receipts so you can easily review. Or, if you are responsible for providing a report to your boss, can you have your team compile the information and pull it together for your final review, analysis and presentation? If there are things you can’t delegate, what would need to happen for you to be able to delegate them to someone else? Is there a learning gap in your team? Is there approval you need from senior leadership? Is there a lack of resources in your team? Do you need to support your team in becoming more effective and down delegating some of their work?

The number one question you need to be asking yourself is “Is this the most valuable use of my time right now?”. If the answer is no and you can’t delegate it, what do you need to be able to delegate it in the near future?

Effective delegation

When delegating to a team member, consider their competence and commitment. Does the person have a reasonable chance of completing the task you ask them to do? Will you need to teach them before they can complete the task? Will you need to set milestones for them to check in with you to ensure they keep their commitment to complete the task? You want to be clear about what you are asking them to do and the timeline in which you’d like them to complete it. Be sure the person understands what you want them to do. If you can live with the worst possible outcome, then delegate it, even if the outcome not what you would “like”.

Help people understand the WHY behind a task – this allows them to make clear decisions and approach the task from a place of understanding the outcome, not just the motions. It creates greater critical thinking in complex tasks and leads to better judgment on when to ask for help or communicate potential roadblocks if they understand the bigger picture.

The ultimate letting go 

Can you let go of being needed? Can you let go of being in control and risk failing? Can you accept that you could become irrelevant and trust that instead you’ll be wanted for the extra value you bring in wisdom, coaching and strategic thinking? When you begin delegating, it can feel incredibly uncertain and uncomfortable and it’s normal to feel vulnerable. This is where learning happens for you and your team.

Short term it takes more time and effort to delegate and very quickly your team becomes more capable. Long term it gives you more time to attend the role your organization needs you to step into is strategic leadership – creating, developing and strategizing for the future.

What will you delegate today to grow the next leader behind you?

Jenn Lofgren