When you were a regular employee, you pretty much knew the job you had to do. You had specific duties that had been laid out, you were taught in a straight forward manner how to perform them, and that's what you did. Day after day you did the same exact thing with few deviations, relied on your wits and got things done. Every once in a while you were given a project to work on that was out of the ordinary, and you wondered how the head of your department decided to dole out the workload.

delegation overwhelm

Suddenly you're in a leadership position, and the rules have changed. You may or may not have specific duties you're responsible for. You definitely have people you're responsible for. They have things they're responsible for, just like you did before.

But the parameters have changed. You're going to be privy to being on the inside of a few more things than you were before, and some of them are going to involve projects that you won't always have the time to work on yourself.

When you have others you should pass work onto, or to help you accomplish department goals, that's called delegation. I call it the "art" of delegation, because I find a lot of leaders aren't very good at delegation, whereas others are Picasso's in their own right. It can take a delicate balance to achieve good results without getting a lot of negative feedback from those you select for assignments or, for that matter, those you pass over.

It comes down to your knowing who can do the task the best. Sometimes you give out an assignment to test the skills and abilities of an employee. Sometimes assignments are given out as punishment; that's never good. It's also a bad thing to give all of your work to others because you don't want to do it.

In my book Embrace The Lead, I tell a story about my first position as a hospital director. I'd come into a situation where the facility had been without someone in the position for 4 months, while 5 months earlier they'd gone through a computer conversion. My predecessor didn't want to learn how to use the new system and decided to leave when he realized it was going to be a critical component to his success.

I came in and immediately was over a department of 75 people, all of whom needed to be taught how to use the computer system more effectively. I knew I couldn't do it until I learned the system, so I spent my first two weeks learning the computer system. I spent the next three months learning all the nuances of the computer system, and how it affected billing and registration (remember, I worked in a hospital).

delegation overwork

Finally, one night after working a series of 14 hour days over the course of most of those weeks (including going in on weekends), which also involved 45-minute drives each way, it hit me that I was trying to do it all. I had hired new employees to go along with those I already had because I recognized that we were understaffed, but I wasn't taking much time teaching them anything I was learning.

I'd fallen into a classic trap; I was trying to do all of the work on my own. I had done some training, but I spent most of the time actually working accounts, which wasn't my job. I'd taken it upon myself to help everyone catch up instead of educating anyone on how the new system worked so they could help me help them. I had forgotten the principle of delegation, thereby foregoing any possibility of my department becoming more efficient and proficient.

There are more traps than that one. Below are 6 traps that you should watch out for, as well as some ways to make delegation more effective for you.

1. Realize that you can't do it all.

As a manager you're supposed to be there for your employees. There has to be a symbiosis between the leader and those who report to the leader in order to get things accomplished.

2. Learn the strengths of each person in your department.

If you're lucky, you'll have a department where everyone is equal and capable at every single task. If you're like everyone else, then each person will have their own strengths and weaknesses. An adept manager will know which situations to use a specific person for assistance.

3. Make sure to spread the wealth.

Even though some employees may not see it as an opportunity, you as a leader should. Delegating projects to others allows you to determine where skills may be lacking, as well as determine the actual proficiency of an employee.

It also allows employees who succeed to get a sense of accomplishment when they've done a good job, and it gives you the chance to reinforce positive feelings. You should always remember to log the results somewhere so you can either give credit for a job well done, or indicate the need for improvement when it comes to performance reviews.

4. Don't give work to others so you don't have any.

Employees work well when they have a good example to follow. If you're always sitting at your desk playing solitaire on your computer (do people still do that?), whether your employees can see the monitor or not, they'll know, and you'll end up with dissension that you'll never overcome.

5. Don't delegate to someone else because you don't know how to do it.

As a leader, you're not expected to know everything, though you may feel that's what's expected of you. When something comes your way that you're unsure of, just passing it along to someone else won't get the assignment completed. If the employee doesn't know how to do it either, the department fails, and that's ultimately your responsibility. If your employee needs to ask questions and you don't know the answers, you undermine your credibility. It's your job to learn the job so you can teach others.

6. Delegation doesn't mean "punishment".

Never abuse your position to unload on someone else because you have a problem with them. If you have to deal with a troublesome employee, there are other ways to discipline them when necessary.

As I said before, delegation is an art. Used properly, your department will hum, and you will be considered a genius. Use it wrong and you create a scary Lucy. No one wants that. 🙂