Delegating: a key skill

Leaders, says famed ex-GE CEO Jack Welch “should always err on the side of delegation… The bigger the company, the more delegation you need to do. It makes your employees love being at the company and helps them flourish. And it gives managers a feel for who needs more attention.”

One of the most underrated competencies in leadership is delegation. As a leader you need to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the business can carry on if you’re not around.

Peter Drucker saw effective delegation as essential to his ‘management by objectives’ philosophy, and provided some clear and simple guidelines about how delegation should be approached:


  • Choose delegates based on a fair and objective assessment of his or her skills and abilities in relation to the requirement of the task
  • Give precise instructions; use simple procedures; show employees how to do something and explain why it is done that way
  • Show how each delegation contributes to organisational goals
  • Clarify expected results
  • Develop standards of performance together; recognise superior performance
  • Discuss problems; answer questions; seek employees’ ideas about how to do the job
  • Be supportive; exhibit trust; keep your promises
  • Praise positive achievements in public


  • Don’t delegate in a haphazard fashion
  • Don’t over-exercise your power; don’t try to dominate the delegates; be a leader rather than a mentor
  • Don’t criticise employees in front of others
  • Don’t overreact to problems or mistakes
  • Don’t over-control the performance

Amy Gallo highlights some more helpful delegation tips, drawing on the work of Pfeffer and others:

Watch for warning signs
If you find yourself hoarding work, and working long hours as a result, that may be a classic sign of under-delegating.

Understand why you’re not delegating
Sometimes it can simply be ego – or what Jeffery Pfeffer more politely calls ‘self-enhancement bias’ – that can prevent us from delegating

Measure how you’re doing
Sometimes a CEO might not be aware how much of their time is being taken up by routine tasks. Keep a diary to make this ‘routine creep’ more visible

Choose the right people
Confidence in the person you’re delegating to is a big issue – if you don’t believe people are truly able to do the jobs you hired them to do, you may have a bigger problem than a reluctance to delegate. Conversely, good delegation is vital to the development of the subordinates you delegate to.

Integrate delegation into what you already do
Make delegation part of your process for creating staff development plans. Discuss which types of projects and tasks you will pass on to them so that they can build the skills they need.

Ask others to hold you accountable
Give your direct reports permission to tell you when you haven’t delegated something you should.

Really let go
After you delegate, your job as a manager is to observe and support your direct reports, not dictate what they do. “It’s not about making the decisions for them. Develop their critical thinking skills so they become better at intervening in their own situations,” Pfeffer says.

Learn from experience
Once you’ve started delegating more, pay attention to the results, and learn from your mistakes. “You’re going from a ‘I’m going to do everything because I know better than everyone’ mindset to a ‘I’m going to let people learn’ mindset,” says Pfeffer. It may take time, but the payoff is great.

Thanks to Mike Riddiford – Editor – CEO Forum

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