5 Ways Managers Fail at Delegating

Delegating effectively is one of the most important things you can do as a manager.

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Alison Green
Delegating effectively is one of the most important things you can do as a manager, and it's also one of the most difficult.

Here are some of the most common ways managers fail at delegating:

1. Delegating without making sure that you and the other person are on the same page. Managers often forget to make sure they and their staffs agree about what a successful outcome would look like and then are surprised when the final work product isn’t what they were expecting.

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2. Delegating without staying involved to monitor progress. If you’ve talked through the project at the start, the work should happen according to plan, right? If only! Staying involved and checking in is the effective manager’s secret weapon. It’s what allows you to keep the work on course, catch problems early, and adapt the plan if necessary. Not doing this is the single biggest way managers fail at delegating.

3. Delegating without truly delegating. Sometimes a manager is so nervous about, or invested in, a project that even though she has technically assigned it to a staffer, she doesn’t really let go of it, continuing to drive the work herself or even doing some of it herself. This leads to confusion about who is actually responsible for the work getting done and diminished ownership (and thus diminished performance) on the part of the staffer it was assigned to.

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4. Feeling that if you can do it yourself, you should. This is a natural temptation, but it can result in severely underutilizing your staff and keeping your own plate too crammed, preventing you from spending time in the areas where you add the most value to your employer. The whole point of managing is getting things done through other people, so you have to learn how to do it.

5. Delegating to the wrong person. When delegating work, be sure to consider who actually has the talent and skills to get the job done rather than who should be able to do the task at hand given her background or position. (Of course, if you repeatedly find yourself reluctant to delegate responsibility that the employee in that position should be able to handle, you need to assess whether or not that person is a good fit for the role.)

At its core, delegating well—and finding the appropriate level of involvement at each stage—is a microcosm of good management. It’s about figuring out what needs to be done, finding the right people to do it, clearly communicating what you're looking for, following up to ensure you’re getting results, and creating accountability. That, in a nutshell, is management—so if you can master delegation, you’re on the road to managing the larger picture well, too.

Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.