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The Art of Delegation

January 18 2016 - by Joan H. Underwood, LDP Facilitator

Delegation is the process of passing on responsibility to carry out a specific task, as well as the authority to do so.

Accordingly to a recently published study, 78% of employees in major corporations think that their bosses routinely do work that could be effectively delegated to more junior employees.[1]  The research also revealed that 66% of managers said that they would like to increase their use of delegation as a time management and personnel development tool.  Given these statistics, the question then arises – why aren’t managers utilizing delegation more?

Common barriers to the effective use of delegation include:

  • Perfectionism
  • Time constraints
  • Concern that direct reports lack the necessary knowledge or skills
  • Uncomfortable asking for help
  • Belief that the project/task is “too important”

Even when managers overcome these barriers, there is a high probability that they will fall into one of the many traps of ineffective delegation.  Such traps can be said to fall into two extremes of a spectrum – i.e. an abdication of responsibility at one end and micro-management at the other end.  Here’s how these two extremes show up in the workplace.

Abdication of Responsibility (aka Dump and Run)


Waits until the last minute to assign tasks

Provides too much lead-time, eliminating any sense of urgency

Omits important details about the job

Provides too many details and leaves no room for creativity

Doesn’t provide necessary resources

Provides too much information

Assumes that the person will “figure things out by themselves”

Tries to answer every question before it’s asked

Assigns jobs to people who may not be competent to do them

Assigns jobs to people who are overqualified and will be bored

Doesn’t check in or monitor progress

Doesn’t give the employee any breathing room


The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and involves the following measures:

  • Providing enough lead-time for task to be done right
  • Sharing relevant facts as well as a “big picture”
  • Providing needed resources
  • Providing time to ask questions and figure things out
  • Assigning jobs to people who are competent to do them
  • Letting go, but remaining available to help
  • Monitoring progress without micromanaging
  • Building confidence and trust with sincere feedback

Where do you currently stand in the delegation spectrum?  Are you of the dump and run ilk, or would your direct reports describe you as more of a micro-manager? If you currently fall into either of these two extremes what are some practical steps that you can take to become a more effective delegator and unleash the personal and organizational benefits associated with mastering the art of delegation?


[1] Statistics presented by Leadership Choice during a June 2015 ATD webinar.

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Julie Meeks - Reply

Elsewhere I have thanked my outstanding Administrative Officer (an HR specialist, unlike me)  for instructing me in the art of delegation.  I have faults on both sides of the spectrum: failing to delegate in a timely way, a Dump and Run symptom, yet also tending to perfectionism and wanting to ensure every i is duly dotted.  I am grateful to have learned that staff members are willing and able to  undertake tasks, and may even be pleased to be asked.  Certainly the personnel development aspects have been realized, and confidence and ability built through tasks delegated.  I am really pleased to have this structured discussion through CLP on delegation and am working to use this to even greater effect.

Joan H Underwood - Reply

Thanks for sharing, Julie. I am confident that you will find that your commitment to delegating effectively will yield great benefits for both you and your direct reports as it creates opportunities for growth and development. 


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Esther Inniss - Reply

Joan, thank you for this structured and useful snapshot on the Art of Delegation. I have approached delegation from a developmental perspective. But, in the process have found it to be a useful tool for both my staff and me. As a result, I see value in and have been utilizing delegation more and more in the office.  The Art of Delegation is a very critical skill for leaders and managers today.  

Rachel Roberts - Reply

Which part of the spectrum do I lie is a question I honestly could not answer.  While I do believe that I delegate I am still of the view that some more development must take place.  I am therefore working on it and made speciat effort over the past few weeks after returning from Belize and being exposed to the delegation tool.

A lesson I have learned is that the immediate supervisor's management style could have a great impact on ones ability to delegate.


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Neri James - Reply

Excellent article Joan and good comments Esther and Julie. I see delegattion as not only an art but also a science. There must not only be a visual benefit associated with delegation but a right mixture of people, process and procedure.

Yes I am guilty of all the offensives! Dump and run and micromanagement but the good thing is that I am now mindful of such and when it is recognized immediate corrective measures are taken.


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