How to know it’s time to delegate

New managers may find the transition from DIY to deputisation a tough one

You may think you’re being efficient but micromanagement risks colleagues’ resentment

For many first-time leaders, delegation can be a tricky business. “Perhaps it’s because we want to be liked but asking people to carry out tasks could make us unpopular? Or is it because we don’t want to appear lazy?” speculates business neuroscientist Lynda Shaw, speaking to Forbes. “Or are we afraid of losing control and the outcome not being as good as if we had handled the work ourselves?”

If you’ve risen through the ranks under your own steam, it can be hard to know if and when to trust junior colleagues with responsibilities, particularly if the buck stops with you when things go wrong. Here are some tips for knowing when you’re doing too much.


The problem with delegation may be that managers take a favourable view of work they have personally had a hand in. Research by Stanford and Arizona State University found that managers were more disposed to rate work highly if they themselves were involved.

Moreover, participants were more likely to believe that identical work was of a higher standard when they thought that a supervisor had had a role in its execution. This insistence on the sanctity of hierarchy can make delegation difficult.

Chief executive of the Inc CEO Project Jim Schleckser recommends the “70 per cent rule” as a way of telling if you should be delegating any task. Schleckser told Inc that, “if the person the chief executive would like to perform the task is able to do it at least 70 per cent as well as he can, he should delegate it.”

Ask yourself which tasks could be given to colleagues. If it’s something which will need to be performed again and again, investing the time training them to do it could save you time in the long run.


Perhaps the biggest indicator of your failure to delegate is the frustration and laziness of your junior colleagues. In The Gift of Time, Gail Thomas says that poor delegators run the risk “of their own team leaving them because there is potentially limited empowerment.” By undertaking every challenge yourself, you prevent subordinates from learning new skills or proving their worth.

It isn’t enough to simply delegate a task. You must assign responsibility and authority, and with these, a degree of creative autonomy. Accept that their take will differ from yours, but there may be merits in their approach which could be valuable to you in the future.

“You’ve gotten to this level by trusting yourself and others trusting you,” Maren Kate Donovan, chief executive of Zirtual, told The Muse. “Delegation from a manager can often be a bridge to building stronger relationships on the team, as well as become an opportunity for mentorship.”


It is not that managers are unaware that deputising would benefit them. In 2013, an executive coaching survey by Stanford revealed that 35 per cent of chief executives said they need to improve their delegation, but a substantial 37 per cent reported that they were already trying to improve these skills.

The issue is that many new managers are “over-capable” – able to keep their head above water doing the tasks they performed as a junior, as well as those demanded by their new managament role. “Over-capability is a business, career and relationship breaker,” explains Thomas. “If a manager gets too caught up in the minutiae, they are at risk of breaking, risk of boredom, risk of being passed over.”

You may be able to perform menial tasks quickly, but time is a valuable resource. Stop aspiring to perfection on a micro-level, and focus on higher impact projects, like strategising, reorganising and cultivating new partnerships.

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