6 Delegation Errors Leaders Make (and How to Fix Them)

By Emily Roner | Updated: 05 Sep, 2018

Delegation is the key to business growth. Gallup found that leaders who are skilled delegators achieve three-year growth rates that are 112% higher than those who don’t delegate at all or who do so poorly.

It is so powerful that Gallup also lists effective delegation as one of the top ten traits required to successfully build and grow a business.

However, randomly passing off work to subordinates won’t yield substantial benefits. You have to be strategic about how and when you do it to avoid accidentally triggering negative results.

Here are the top 6 delegation errors (other than not delegating in the first place) and how to overcome them:

1) Giving Vague Instructions

Your employees cannot read your mind. The top delegation mistake leaders make is assigning employees tasks without providing clear expectations. There are only three cases when you’re likely to have a successful outcome when you give vague instructions:

  1. You’re delegating a task to someone who has completed it several times before and already knows your preferences.
  2. You only care about the results, and you empower the person you delegate to do the work however they think is best.
  3. You’re open to a variety of outcomes and curious about what your employee will produce when they’re not influenced by your guidance.

Without one of those conditions, employees are likely to be confused and interrupt you with lots of questions and/or make unintentional mistakes because they don’t understand what you want from them.

Fix this error:

  • Give people specific instructions that detail what you want them to accomplish and how. Make sure the person you delegate to has an opportunity to ask questions before they begin working.

2) Using Delegation to Avoid Difficult Decisions

A study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that people tend to delegate decisions that involve unattractive options and are likely to create poor outcomes for others. These are the worst types of tasks to pass off.

You are responsible for your strategic work. Assigning critical tasks to other people often leads to poor outcomes and creates resentment toward you and delegated work in general.

Fix this error:

  • Only delegate tasks that are not part of your responsibilities or that you know will likely result in someone else taking the blame for a difficult decision that should have been yours to make.

Read More: How to Use Delegative Leadership to Empower Team Success

3) Delegating Tasks to the Wrong Person

Assigning work based on who first comes to mind, sets yourself up for failure. Who you choose to delegate to impacts the speed and accuracy of project completion and your team’s overall perception toward delegation.

If you assign work to a mid to upper-level professional who is stressed out with their work, they’re unlikely to give your task the needed effort and may resent you for adding more to their workload. Likewise, if you pass on a complicated project to an employee in a junior or a support staff role, they’re likely to fail.

Fix this error:

  • Consider people’s availability, skills, position, and interests when deciding who to delegating to. Though it will take a few extra minutes to make a decision, they will complete the work much more efficiently.

If everyone on your team is too busy with their work, considering hiring a dedicated virtual assistant. You’ll get a higher ROI from assigning simple, process-oriented tasks like expense management, CRM support, scheduling, and others to them than you will from delegating to most of your subordinates.

4) Failing to Empower Delegates to Complete Projects

When delegating one-off tasks, leaders often forget that their subordinates don’t have the same ability to complete work. Setbacks that can occur from this are:

  • Not having access to necessary tools
  • Being blocked by individuals who think they don’t have the authority to complete the work you assigned them
  • Having inadequate access to knowledge and materials that would help them work more effectively
  • Lacking the power to make decisions necessary to complete the task

Failing to proactively resolve those issues may significantly extend the time it takes for individuals to finish the work you delegate to them.

Fix this error:

  • Before delegating tasks, think about what you would use to complete them and empower your delegate with the same access and authority that you do.

5) Forgetting Who You Delegate Tasks To

If you’re distractedly delegating work while juggling several other tasks, you’re setting yourself up for confusion when assignments are due. Forgetting who you assign work to creates two tense and avoidable conflicts:

  1. If a job isn’t completed by its due date, you don’t remember who to reach out to for a progress update. This limits accountability and may force you to redo work by the unknown person you delegated to.
  2. You may incorrectly recall who you assigned a task to and which may lead you to hold someone responsible for work that you never gave them.

Over time, forgetting who you delegate to can lead to lots of wasted time and degrade your team’s trust in you.

Fix this error:

  • Make a note in your task management tool whenever you delegate a task. This ensures that you always know who to hold accountable.

6) Waiting Until a Task is Complete to Check Progress

Even if leaders remember who they delegate tasks to, they often forget about work while it’s in progress. The danger of waiting until a job is complete to check-in is that you don’t have any time to identify and correct errors before they affect the entire project.

Gallup argues that leaders must put feedback systems in place to ensure that delegated projects are completed effectively. Without it, the quality of work you receive may be unpredictable.

Even if you delegate small tasks on an ongoing basis, such as scheduling and expense management, it’s vital to have brief syncs with your team to ensure they meet expectations.

Fix this error:

  • For large projects:
    • Check-in, at a minimum, mid-way through its timeline. Add additional progress updates if it’s challenging and/or requires a high degree of accuracy.
  • For small, frequent tasks:
    • Set up a brief sync two to four times per month to offer feedback and identify opportunities for improvement.

Avoiding these errors will enable you to learn how to use delegation to help your business thrive.

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