Five Common Human Barriers to Effective Delegation

In This Article

(Click the links below to move easily to sections of this article)

Delegation: Where’s Everybody When You Need Them?
What Makes Delegation Difficult
Why Managers Fail at Delegation
Why Delegation Matters
What You Can Do to Delegate Work Effectively
Video: Barriers to Effective Delegation
Survey: Delegating Work to Employees

Member Content

Back to Top

Delegation: Where’s Everybody When You Need Them?

person alone in stadiumWhy is it that when it’s time for some managers to “take the field” with their teams to get the work done that they find themselves alone?

As I’ve worked with managers and their teams, I often find that the root cause is under-developed delegation skills.

The symptoms of ineffective managerial delegation can be many including micromanaging, the constantly changing project outcome, lack of communication, and other undesirable results.

This makes delegation an important development area for any manager who wants to improve their organizational effectiveness.

Maybe you can do the work yourself. But, the question is: Should you be doing it? Click To Tweet

Back to Top

What Makes Delegation Difficult

road sign with question markBy definition, both management and leadership involve working with and through others to achieve desired outcomes. (After all, there is a limit to what any one of us can do alone.)

We all know effective delegation skills are important. They can make or break a manager’s career! But, getting it right can be difficult.

What is it about delegation that makes this skill difficult to master for new managers and even for some experienced senior and middle level managers?

The root cause often comes from one or more five common human barriers to effective delegation.

Some organizations fail because their leaders cannot delegate work effectively. Click To Tweet

Back to Top

Why Managers Fail at Delegation

The word fail written in red letters and enclosed in a red rectangle

Getting over these human barriers requires some emotional intelligence and personal development.  It requires taking a good look at ourselves and evaluating how we are doing with the following:

1.  Fear of Failure

What if they fail?  The reality is that everyone makes mistakes in the workplace and if managed appropriately mistakes can be excellent learning opportunities to improve performance, promote innovation, and improve operations.

To delegate effectively, managers must recognize their own fears and allow some room for their team to make mistakes.  With adequate development and trust, team members will more often meet the challenge than fail.

2. Envy of Your Staff Member’s Ability

So, you’re a little bit green with envy at that talented staff member of yours whose ability in a certain area outshines your own.  In your private thoughts, you know you are reluctant to delegate to her because she is so good at what she does.  So what should you do?

Talk to yourself and get over it!  Even laugh at your envy if you must!  Once you have intelligently dealt with your own negative emotions, let your talented staff member do what she does best.  Give her full credit as appropriate.   The truth is she makes you look good!  Let her excel and you’ll be known as a manager and leader who can utilize the talents of your staff effectively.

3.  I Can Do it Better Myself!

This is probably true!  After all, your technical ability is part of the reason for your success in your organization.  The correct question you should ask yourself, however, is the following:

Should I be doing the work myself or is it better for me to delegate this work to someone else?

Your role as a manager is one of process to achieve organizational outcomes through organizing, controlling, planning, communicating, etc.  You can fulfill this role better when you are not bogged down with work that others should be doing. Invest the time in developing your people to perform these tasks.

Lower your standard to an acceptable level of performance.  They do not need to complete the task exactly as you would do it to meet organizational goals.  After all, there are many methods for accomplishing most tasks.

4. I Like To Do This Myself!

Understood!  There are some aspects of any job that are more enjoyable than others are.  The question here is the same as in item #3, however: Should you be doing the work yourself or should you delegate it to someone else?

There is a principle of delegation that says managers should delegate tasks that can be done by others.  Some managers take this advice too far and delegate everything to their staff members.  This is not what is meant.

Delegated tasks should be appropriate to the responsibilities and organizational level of the team member.  Further, there are some managerial tasks that are inappropriate for a manager to delegate to others to perform.  This human barrier to delegation addresses those tasks we like to do but really should not do because others can do them.  Let someone else enjoy this part of your job!

5. I Better Not Give Him Too Much Authority for This Task or I Will Lose Control

Part of delegating effectively is picking the right person for the task.  This requires assessing both their willingness and capacity to perform the task.  Assuming they have the right attitude and skill level to perform the task, give them the authority they need to complete the task for you.

As appropriate, establish check-in points so you can monitor their progress.  Don’t over-monitor them however (particularly your superstars) or you will frustrate them.  You have invested in their development and created a positive work environment for them to do their best–now you just need to trust them to give you the desired results.

Maybe you can (or like) to do the work yourself, but should you be doing it? Are you holding on to work that really belongs to someone else? Click To Tweet

Back to Top

Why Delegation Matters

the word "important" underlined with a red pencilOvercoming these DNA obstacles to delegation is critical to any manager’s success.

When a manager cannot delegate work effectively, organizational stakeholders criticize him for his inability to use his human resources effectively. Higher level managers take note of this manager’s limitations and the under-utilization of his team and they exclude him from further promotional considerations.

When a manager can delegate work effectively, organizational stakeholders praised her for her ability to get the best out of her people. Higher level managers take note of this manager’s ability to run a productive unit and they consider her for higher levels of management responsibility.

Fear of not getting the right result or of losing control gets in the way of delegation. Click To Tweet

Back to Top

What You Can Do to Delegate Work Effectively

The words problem and solution written on a blackboard with the word problem crossed outDelegation is a critical skill that takes some time to develop.

It requires emotional intelligence because it affects some of your human emotions. The better you become at recognizing these emotions and managing them appropriately, the more effective you will be with your delegation.

With self-awareness and the ability to “give yourself a talking to” when needed, you can overcome the five common human barriers to effective delegation.

So, if you’re having problems with delegation, don’t immediately blame your people.

Instead, use whatever emotional intelligence and self awareness you can muster and consider that the problem may not be your employees. Your real problem may be with that person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning.

Do you need to talk to that person?

Delegation problems are not always due to process issues or employee skill levels. Sometimes problems with delegation are at a more human level. Click To Tweet

Back to Top

Video: Barriers to Effective Delegation

Back to Top

Survey: Delegating Work to Employees

Maybe you can do the work yourself. But, the question is: Should you be doing it? Are you holding on to work that really belongs to someone else? Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

Expert Interview

Wall Street Journal

Expert Presenter

Association of Talent Development

Expert Interview

Society for Human Resource Management

Expert Author

Digital Analytics Association