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Learning to delegate

The shift from doing to leading is one of the most difficult transitions for new leaders. The meaning of the word delegate is to entrust or to assign responsibility – it’s about empowering the other person to do something however, leaders often confuse delegation with asking their teams to get things done on their behalf.

There are many reasons leaders avoid delegating – some are perfectionists who don’t trust someone else will do the task well, others lack self-confidence, and some are simply worried that they might be upstaged by their team members. Whatever the reasons, the first step to delegating is for leaders to accept that they can’t do everything themselves.

From delegating to coaching

It is not uncommon for leaders to only pass on high level tasks when they are time poor, even though they probably still believe they can do the job better than their team members who have less experience in the role. Whilst this style of delegation can get the work done, when being assigned a task with no prior training it can be overwhelming for the person who is being delegated to and limiting their chances to succeed. Delegation is about finding the balance to utilise people’s skills and develop them over time, free up your time to focus on what you do best and motivating your team by giving them interesting and challenging tasks – and therefore empowering them to make decisions and take ownership.

As a leader, training and development are a central part of the role, and leaders who naturally look for ways to give responsibility to their teams, instead of simply delegating work they don’t have the time to do themselves, are motivating and empowering their teams to take on even bigger and more challenging tasks overtime. By creating a work environment of growth through coaching, where learning is part of the culture and not just an HR exercise, leaders can build a strong pipeline of talent, as well as focus on critical business tasks instead of spending time doing things that can be done by others.

Focus on the people, not the task

When people lack understanding, they are less likely to care. Employees who understand the bigger picture and the importance of their role for the success of the project experience increased personal relevance and feel more connected to their work, therefore more likely to follow through. In addition to clear definitions of the work, scope of contribution and their capacity, leaders also need to clearly communicate any additional expectations so that everyone fully understands what’s required from them. Delegation doesn’t mean that leaders need to disappear completely - there needs to a balanced mix of support and availability. Too much involvement could lead to micromanagement, whilst being too hand-off could lead to missing critical opportunities where feedback would be essential.

At Acumen we design and deliver tailored leadership development programmes to equip your leaders with the best skills and practices to create an engaged and motivated work environment. For more information, please contact Simon at

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