ATD Blog

Delegate or Burn Out: Knowing When It’s Time to Let Go!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Many leaders, especially those with a deep technical expertise, know they need to delegate more. That said, it can be extremely difficult to delegate effectively—and actually get results through others. Indeed, people can work on honing this management skill for years.

Though challenging, it is important to learn how to delegate. There is no other way to scale your efforts than becoming comfortable with others doing some of the work. Getting everything done by yourself is fine for a while, but if you want to achieve bigger things, learning to delegate is a must.

One key element of delegating is getting good at letting go. There are many reasons for holding on. Some managers may think: “I can do it better myself.” Others may feel: “It takes too long to teach what needs to be done, so I’ll do it myself.”

The first thing you need to do is understand and determine your particular obstacle—and then work through it. Knowing “what” is holding you back, and dealing with it, is your key to success. Next, you need to think beyond the specific project or task you want to delegate, and start to think about the process you need to put in place for delegation to work.


Steps to Delegation Success

Here are the critical steps you need to follow:


  • Identify the right tasks to delegate: Be smart about this step. Don’t delegate the most unique, time-pressed, high-profile items. Start with some smart assignments, and give them to the appropriate resources.
  • Set solid expectations and communicate well. Be clear on what you are looking for and the level of direction the person needs.
  • Provide helpful feedback. When the work product is ready, provide helpful constructive feedback on any adjustments. Set an expectation that allows you to provide feedback—so the employee knows it is coming. Think about the dialogue you will have; you want a good communication flow so things are done well, on target, and on time.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Repeat the above steps to get a well-established process in place. Then, step back and look at how the process is going.
  • Debrief on how the delegation is working. This is akin to an “after action review,” in which you talk through what is working well and what you can improve on the next delegation opportunity. Identify the ways to improve; it could be changing a communication style, providing more detail or less, and so forth.
  • Raise your level of direction. If your process of delegation is working well, you should be able to delegate at a much higher level—using more “what” and less “how.”

Delegation takes commitment. You have to commit to letting go, and devote yourself to developing good habits. Earmark at least two months to testing the delegation of work. The benefit in terms of time redirected for you, your scope of work increasing, and the development of your people is worth the effort. Most importantly, once you learn how to delegate will, it’s a management skill you will have for the rest of your career.

About the Author

Senior Partner, Camden Consulting Group 

Bob is a senior partner with Camden Consulting Group, overseeing leadership development and management training. A skilled strategist, facilitator, and executive coach, he designs and delivers executive coaching and leadership development services for Camden's clients.

Camden Consulting is a consulting firm that provides focused, practical, customized, and integrated human capital management, leadership development, executive coaching, and training services to organizations and their employees. Visit them at

About the Author

Alan Patterson is a consultant at Camden Consulting Group and president of Mentoré, with extensive experience providing change management, leadership development, and executive coaching services to senior executives in a wide range of industries. Having guided senior executives at more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies in rethinking how best to elevate their talent, he is an expert at driving effective organizational change. Alan also co-designed and co-facilitates Camden’s Organizational Leaders Program, which provides technical experts with the support to make the shift to broader business leaders. He brings 30 years of international consulting experience to his executive coaching engagements. Alan’s expertise has been tapped by many global and national organizations, including Anheuser-Busch, Biogen Idec, CVS, Federal Reserve Bank, Johnson & Johnson, Hewlett-Packard, Major League Baseball, Merck, Sea World, and Williams-Sonoma.

A published author, Alan has been a featured speaker and workshop leader for several national associations, including serving as a national expert resource for the American Institute for CPAs and many state CPA associations.

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