A Five Step Process for Doing the Delegation Dance

  • Do you ever feel stressed at work?

  • Do you struggle trusting your team with tasks you currently manage yourself?

  • When you do trust someone in your team, do you then fret about them getting it right?

  • Let’s be honest, does relinquishing control make you feel just a bit queasy and uneasy?


If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, chances are, you’re experiencing a block with delegation. Join the crowd. Delegation is something a lot of bosses have trouble with.

But if you can master delegation, it will be one of the most liberating and expansive leadership tools you’ll ever have in your leadership toolkit.

Proper delegation means sharing responsibility and accountability. It means trusting others to perform and letting direct reports have a say in what gets delegated and how that work is carried out.

Poor delegation, (or no delegation at all) leads to a messy pile of anxiety, stuff ups and frustration. And not just for you.

Although we all know that delegation is important, we still seem to struggle with it. Here are the two main reasons why we don’t delegate:

  1. It takes a more time and effort up front.

Have you ever found yourself saying, “It’s just quicker and easier if I do it myself?” Yes but no. You doing it all yourself is a short term solution that perpetuates the ‘rut’ you find yourself in right now. Investing in delegation gives you more time to do the important stuff you should be doing in the first place.

  1. It can be hard to relinquish control.

One of my clients recently admitted to literally feeling a tight knot in his chest every time he thought of giving away certain work to his team. How do you respond to this block? Examine your own relationship with control:

      • What makes you anxious about handing over work?
      • What would help to lower this apprehension?
      • If you don’t believe in the capability of your team members, where specifically do they need development in? What needs to happen to change this?

If you want to be a pro at delegating, you can start by following this nifty five step process:

Step One: Identify the tasks to be delegated. 

Delegate smartly – for development and team effectiveness, not just to dump work you hate doing.  Work out what areas you need to keep (strategy, for example) and what areas you could delegate (i.e. a task which is repetitive and not the best use of your time).

Involve each team member in this delegation decision. This is also a great way to incorporate focus from their development plan. Ask each one of them:

  • Where do you need and want to develop further?
  • What areas of my job could we look at delegating to you which would benefit everyone?
  • In looking at this specific task we could delegate, where do you feel most confident? Where do you feel less confident?

 Step Two: Identify what success looks like.

Once you’ve identified a task to delegate, start with a clear picture of what success looks like. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with delegation happens at the beginning of the delegation process. This is obvious, but, you BOTH need to be on the same page about the ideal outcome of the task or project! Get them to reflect back to you their understanding of what success looks like. Ensure clarity on the end game, expectations and time frames.

Good questions to ask when beginning to delegate a task can include: 

  • What will success look like with this?
  • How will we know when we have achieved our goal in this scenario?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • When does this need to be completed by?
  • Who are the key stakeholders and what do they need for this to be successful?
  • What will we both be seeing and feeling if this is successful?

Step Three: Identify the most useful process and checkpoints to ensure success.

One of the most common missteps when delegating is to give the task without giving due thought to safety nets, support and decision making processes from start to finish. Before you set them off on their merry way, it’s worth covering the following topics:

  • What checkpoints will we put in place along the way to ensure we are both comfortable with progress?
  • On what aspects will you consult with me before making decisions?
  • What feedback loops do we need to put in place?
  • How often or at what points will you check in with me on this task?
  • What support do you need from me? From others?

Remember: Have realistic expectations regarding the time it will take and their skill level at first. Think about the first time you did this task. Chances are, you were not as skilled and quick as you are now.

 Step Four: Get out of the way.

Another common mistake when we’re delegating is to go through the motions of delegation and then do what I call “the hover”. If the steps above have been completed properly, you can then get out of their way and give them some control over achieving ’said’ task.

 Step Five: Review. 

This is perhaps the most critical, yet often overlooked step in a successful delegation. After the work has been completed, ensure you both sit down together and review what worked, what didn’t and what you both learned. This review is the perfect opportunity for a coaching session. Even 10 minutes spent on this will reap rewards in terms of learning and performance.

Useful questions for discussion at this point could be:

  • What went well? Get them to go first, as this builds self-reflection.
  • What didn’t go so well? What aspects of the project or task did you find difficult or stumble on? Once again, get them to go first and then offer your observations.
  • What did you learn?
  • What did I do that was helpful? What could I do next time to improve my support and help you learn more?

Do these things and you’ll STOP dancing around delegation and START doing the Delegation Dance like a pro.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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