The art of delegation

Managers are expected to achieve results to others. Some definitions of management actually define this art as achieving objectives through others. The question is how can we effectively do this without being seen as “bossing people around” – which is the way that most employees view management.


Another challenge is that a team should achieve more than the sum of its individual members and the collective more than the sum of individual departments. It is only when we add value to shareholders and clients that the whole purpose of being an organization is fulfilled.


The key to good management is effective delegation. It is tempting to think that managers delegate to make their own lives easier – but it is an essential task in the effective linking of organizational objectives to execution. The task of a manager is to manage the operation to ensure that the objective of the organization is achieved.


So how do you do effective delegation?


Start with the objectives


It starts with the objectives of the business that you are responsible for. Each of these need a plan or strategy that translates into specific areas or tasks that represent work packages. In this you need to consider what is your task and what are some of the tasks that you can get others to do.


In the end you need to be able to compile a list of things that could and should be delegated. This must not just be because it is tedious or unpopular work – but must be truly looking at the contribution that you make and to clearly link it to the goals that need to be achieved.


Define the task


Delegation most often failed when the expectations of the manager and the individual accepting the task is misaligned. This starts with the manager clearly outlining the task to be achieved and thinking through some basic questions:

  • What are the expected results?
  • Is there a predefined process or procedure that must be used in the production of the result?
  • What is the method that will achieve this result?
  • Are there sub-tasks? Are these simple or complex and do they need to be specified as well?
  • What are the required limits of authority
  • Is there realistic timelines and are there other dependencies on this task?
  • What other resources may be required to achieve the goal?
  • What training and development may be necessary to support this?


In order to set clear and matching expectations with the person expected to achieve the task – it is always important to first understand it for yourself.


Get the right person to do the job


A great manager understands the abilities of staff and assigns the right person to execute the task. The correct person should have the right ability, knowledge, skills, enthusiasm, talent and time needed to get the job done. If they do not have it – they should be able to develop that within the timeframe of the task. On considering various people to get the task done – it may be clear that there is not one single person that has all the requirements – which may necessitate splitting the task or rethinking the approach. If it is important enough and there is enough time, it may even necessitate recruiting the right person.


Some of the key factors that go into selecting a capable individual include

  • Skills
  • Level of challenge for the individual
  • Learning that this will create
  • Experience required
  • Personal qualities required
  • Trust requirements
  • Existing workload
  • Team dynamics
  • Ability to grow impact of an individual


The task briefing


As a manager it is one of your most important tasks to ensure that when you outline initiatives and give instructions that you give very clear communication on the task at hand and the results that are expected. A lot of managers do not communicate what is expected clearly and then gets angry or surprised when the results are difference from what was happening in their head. Management does not happen in your head – it happens with your people.


When you communicate a task ideally this should include a clear definition of:

  • The scope of the task
  • The specific results to be achieved
  • The time schedule and deadlines
  • The available resources
  • Any technical requirements including existing work processes
  • Any external information that would change the task
  • Authority needed to carry out the task
  • How performance will be measured
  • Sensitive or risky aspects of the task
  • Reporting requirements
  • Your confidence in the person




Where do you want the person to start and to finish? When you are giving then the task to investigate a solution and bring it to you, or the task to take the solution and execute it. This makes a big difference in the authority required. This comes in communicating the task but also in the rights and approvals that are allocated to the individual.


The real art of leadership comes in setting these parameters and establishing the controls to ensure that this authority and power is properly used. Relevant staff and managers needs to be aware of the expectations and the “task briefing” may have to be extended to a wider audience for it to be effective.


Open communication lines


Great wars have been lost due to disruption of communication lines. This is no different for goals. Delegation is not abdication. You need to follow-up and make sure that you keep track of where tasks are, what is happening and what the next steps are. At the very least you need to be informed of when things are not going well. Often you find that if you do not drive the update cycle – that you end up being outside of the loop.


Keep referring back to the goals that you set out and track progress and ensure that you remove stumbling blocks and get these achieved.


Do not be afraid of conflict and course corrections. It is better to get things on track earlier than trying to fix them later.


Reward progress and performance


When there is progress achieved – encourage it gently. When there is performance reward it privately and publicly.


Build team track record.


Do not always delegate the same task to the same person. Delegation is a powerful tool to build team capacities and through artful delegation, in time you can build resources that have the confidence, experience and skills to benefit the overall organisation. Skilful delegation and good training forms the basis for growing and nurturing future leadership.




When a unit is not more than the sum of its parts – it is quite predictable that the manager is not delegating effectively. When a unit seems that they are achieving more than possible with their resources – it points to a leader that effectively delegates.


Effectively delegating is often what separates good managers from poor managers.


Delegation is an art that requires a systematic approach and a lot of follow through. Persistence, patience and constant course corrections are all part of what makes delegation a powerful tool for the effective manager. The objective of delegation is to build capacity and to enable others to achieve their full potential in the context of organizational goals.


This synergy effect allows organizations to add value to shareholders and clients, and is enabled by delegation.