Leaders, can you let go and delegate?


The shift from doing to leading is one of the most common challenges for new leaders.


Whilst many don’t let go of their work when moving into leadership positions, as responsibilities become more complex, it is easy to tell the difference between an effective leader and an individual contributor with a leadership title.


As we know from Marshall Goldsmith, what got us here won’t get us there, and the skills that make someone a great achiever are not the same skills needed to be a great leader and people-developer.


The leadership paradox


Just like being busy and being productive are not the same, for leaders to become more essential, they need to become less involved. It is a leadership paradox and requires leaders to activate those around them to be successful, instead of holding on to their work. But leaders often struggle with knowing what they can delegate, how to delegate responsibility and not just tasks, or what responsibilities could serve as a learning and growth opportunity for employees.


And whilst leaders know the benefits of delegation, in practice many become the bottlenecks in the process for many different reasons – including the concern that the work won’t be done to the required standard or that it will take longer to assign the work than getting it done. But avoiding delegating can have negative consequences not only by overloading leaders’ schedules and prioritising the wrong tasks but also by employees missing out on valuable learning and growth opportunities.


One of the first steps required to delegate successfully and effectively is the understanding of the leaders’ own resistance. Some might be reluctant to delegate because they don’t want to give up control, or they don’t want to look like they’re not doing enough. However, being a leader is not about being controlling—it’s about having the courage to be accountable and overcoming the fear of delegation will create better and more effective leaders.


The value of delegation


According to a Gallup study, CEOs who excel in delegating generate 33 percent higher revenue. These leaders know they can’t accomplish everything alone and they position their team to tackle tasks they’re confident they’ll achieve and as a result empower employees, boost morale, and increase productivity.


The way leaders delegate also needs to allow for failure—not because of the assumption that employees might fail, but because it will enable experimentation and empower employees to take a new approach. This in turn increases psychological safety and creates a culture where failure is part of the learning process, rather than a reason for blame or negative criticism. Delegation is not about losing control; it is an opportunity to develop leadership skills and employee capabilities – and when done well, it develops employees, gives leaders and teams a bigger range of skills and impact, creates inclusive opportunities, empowers people, and retains talent.


Delegation takes patience, practice, and persistence and like any other task, it’s a skill that leaders can learn to master. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at simon@askacumen.com.