The Art of Letting Go: How to Delegate Successfully

How to Delegate Successfully

The Art of Letting Go: How to Delegate Successfully

It was 6:57 pm, and I still sat glued to my laptop, trying in vain to power through a seemingly endless pile of expense reports. My eyes strained as I meticulously combed the same lines for errors over and over. Somewhere deep down, I knew there were more strategic tasks requiring attention if I hoped to prepare adequately for next week’s leadership retreat. However, overwhelm kept me chained to non-essential busy work - work best suited for others but rarely relinquished. 

Like many leaders, I struggled to delegate. By gripping tightly to every last detail as proof of commitment, I failed to equip colleagues to share the load. Of course, I paid lip service to concepts like trust and work-life balance when coaching my team. Yet when it came to entrusting pieces of ‘my projects’ to others, even smaller responsibilities felt impossibly hard to let go. 

Behind most difficulty delegating lurks an underlying root cause. Common barriers include:

Perfectionism - fearful others perform tasks differently (albeit sufficiently)  

Lack of trust - doubting colleagues’ capacities despite proven competencies

Micromanaging tendencies - insisting on rigid, prescribed methods for task completion.

Desire for control - associating self-worth with solo achievements and accolades  

Identifying our unique blocks opens space for a more empowering relationship with delegation.

Why Effective Delegation Matters

No outstanding professional succeed single-handedly. At some point, continuous growth requires redistributing responsibilities to qualified others. This lightens individual workloads, expands organizational capacities exponentially and keeps leaders focused on top priorities. Masterful delegation underpins every thriving company.

Still, we resist letting tasks go, forgetting why delegation serves us beyond mere survival. For leaders drained by overload, its restorative powers reignite passion for higher-level activities like mentoring, innovating, and casting vision. At lower rungs, delegation purifies roles, playing to individual strengths while developing new talents company-wide. 

Team members entrusted with meaningful ownership gain motivation by realizing their piece matters. Companies benefit from cascading skill gains as everyone stretches to fuller potential through delegation. Ultimately, occasional errors prove inconsequential beside the multiplied returns from empowered people achieving collectively.

When to Delegate 

Abdicating authority randomly breeds disasters. Discerning what, when and who to delegate to determines outcomes. As a starting point, consider:

Tasks better performed by others to enable focusing on your highest level. These likely relate less to current expertise and more to developing new company-wide capacities.

Projects requiring cross-department coordination or significant creative problem-solving. These allow colleagues to strengthen weaknesses and exercise strategic thinking.

High-importance yet non-urgent items are forgotten in the fray of putting out daily fires. Delegating these clears space for you to lead proactively. 

Activities with clear guidelines and a low chance of major damage if errors occur. Specify measures of success and checkpoints to minimize risk.

How to Delegate Successfully 

Handing a list of expectations to someone without context rarely ends well. Proper delegation requires an intentional process, leaving participants empowered.

  1.  Choose the Right Person—Consider who needs this assignment to progress professionally. People eager to accept more excel when developing competence in new areas. Have one-on-one conversations gauging readiness through questions like:
  •  What piques your interest in this project? 
  • Which aspects seem most relevant to your goals this quarter?
  • What support might you need from me for success?
  1. Communicate Context Transparently—Clarify why you would like their help and exactly how this task aligns with organization-wide objectives. Help them feel the ripple impact of performing well. Share your thinking transparently so they grasp the broader vision, ultimately guiding granular details. 
  2. Set Clear Guidelines—Define project scope, key checkpoints, and measures for excellence without micromanaging every sub-step. Offer templates in a guiding format without insisting on rigid adherence. Balance clarity of expectations with creative freedom to accomplish the task their way. 
  3. Commit to Authoring, Not Perfecting—Clarify that while granting them complete ownership over execution, you remain available for guidance, not as editor-in-chief. Reframe your role as advisor, not dictator.
  4. Celebrate Wins—Recognize effort and wins frequently. Thank them for lifting things off your plate so you can refocus energy on advancing strategic initiatives. Make the positive impacts of their contribution visible to inspire greater commitment company-wide. 

The more attention placed on making delegation engaging for the receiver, the more likely ongoing enthusiasm and quality results. 

Moving Through Fear 

Executing an effective delegation process still leaves the most challenging part for many leaders - actually letting go. The voice of fear cries the loudest right as we walk the talk. Common anxieties include:

What if they make mistakes? The sky will not fall if small errors happen. We grow through course correcting.

This task requires my expertise! Says who? Allow others to expand their capacities; mentor them through unfamiliar terrain.

No one does it as well as me! Check your ego. Leaders multiply achievements through others.

It goes faster if I just do it myself! And then what? Burnout is a distraction from strategic priorities and an organization overdependent on you.

Ultimately delegation comes down to trust - in colleagues, in processes and in abundance mentality. As Stephen Covey wisely noted, “Many people hesitate to delegate because they feel it means relinquishing control. Ironically, the opposite is true. Delegation involves multiplying your control through other people.”

Start Small for Big Change 

Like any change, progress happens through daily practice. Begin delegating peripheral projects with grace for imperfections. Leverage successes to expand comfort with larger endeavours until delegation feels natural. Reflect on how efficiency improves both personally and organizationally. 

And during vulnerable moments when fear creeps back, recall why harnessing collective potential outweighs any singular task. Our role as leaders includes awakening strengths in others that may surprise even ourselves. Delegate knowing that with commitment, our teams can deliver beyond our wildest imagination. The art of delegation liberates that future, one trust-filled risk at a time.

Unlock Your Potential