Leadership Basics: How to Delegate Work Successfully

Mikhail Sudbin

Mikhail Sudbin
Chief Technology Officer at Advalange

True leaders know how to delegate work effectively. Avoid pitfalls along the way to successful work delegation with these five easy steps.

How often have you heard: “If you want something done right then do it yourself?” I bet more than once. This mindset, however, is a common obstacle to true leadership. Long-term success depends on your ability to maximize your team’s potential by mastering the skill of delegation.


Art of delegation

Image by Ros Asquith (image source).


Books on delegation, including “The Busy Manager’s Guide to Delegation” by Richard A. Luecke and Perry McIntosh or “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, are good entry points to the comprehensive study of this topic. It can take years to study the many aspects that affect the success of work delegation. Start with these five easy steps. Failure is certain if you do not follow them.

“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim.
When a man does not know what harbor he is making for,
no wind is the right wind.”


Step 1. Identify the result

Establish quality goals, KPIs, process objectives – whatever you call those items. You need to have a solid and unambiguous foundation to move forward. Measurable vision of success is the key factor of effectiveness.

“Never delegate methods, only results.”
Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Step 2. Translate the task correctly

Speak in terms of “what will be accomplished” not in terms of “what to do.” If you tell people what to do, they do not commit to the result and latently put responsibility back to you. Be sure that you and your delegate operate in the same context and have the same understanding of the desired result.

“My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”
Steve Jobs

Step 3. Coach your people

The world we live in is not perfect. Accept that it is normal for a person to lack some experience or skills for the task. Talk openly to determine what kind of training and support the person needs. There is no shame in not knowing; the shame is in not learning.

“Let no man imagine that he has no influence.
Whoever he may be, and wherever he may be placed,
the man who thinks becomes a light and a power.”

Henry George

Step 4. Involve your people

Share your whole game plan with your people. A person should know how his piece of work fits into the whole picture and that his work matters. People are not motivated when they aim for some synthetic numbers without understanding their contribution. “You don’t need to know why you are doing it, just do it” is the worst answer imaginable.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do;
we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Steve Jobs

Step 5. Trust and respect your people

Accept that there is always room for failure. It is too optimistic to expect perfection on the first attempt. Give feedback, search for root causes and make corrective actions rather than blame the person. Do not value your methods more just because they are yours. If you delegate right, you will soon notice that people suggest solutions that you’ve never thought of. Moreover, these solutions, surprisingly, outperform your own.

Passing The Torch

Image source

Following these easy steps increase your chances for successfully delegating work. Consult this list when assigning a task or calling somebody on the carpet. If you’ve missed any point, restart the process from that point. Accepting and learning from mistakes differentiates a true leader from a boss.