How to Delegate When You Desperately Don’t Want to Let Go

Jul 7, 2015
5 Min Read

You know you’re supposed to delegate – that’s the whole reason you have a team, after all. But if you’re like a lot of managers, even if you’re overloaded and would love to get some work off your plate, you might be having trouble letting go – especially of work that you enjoy doing or aren’t sure you trust others to do as well as you. 

But you know you’ve got to ease up on the reins to get your other priorities done. How can you delegate when you’re so hesitant to let go?

First, think about why you don’t want to let go. Is it because you don’t trust your team to do the work as well as you would? Or maybe you enjoy doing the work yourself and don’t relish the thought of giving it up. Or maybe you’d like to delegate it in theory but you don’t know where you’ll find the time to train someone to do it well enough.

Once you’re clear on your worries, figure out what it would take for you to be comfortable letting go. A better trained person? The opportunity to review the work before it’s finalized? A detailed conversation with your staff member before the work gets underway, and a checkpoint mid-way through? A commitment to setting aside an afternoon to train someone?

Think, too, about what your role is and what your biggest priorities are. Where is it most important for you to spend your time? Assuming you can’t do everything yourself, you’ll need to delegate some things – and while it sounds obvious, reminding yourself of this can help nudge you to loosen the reins when you’ve got a white-knuckled grip on them. After all, the whole point of having a staff is to get more accomplished because of them – but if you won't let them take on meaningful pieces of work, you’re forfeiting the power of having a team of people working with you.

From there, if you’re still resisting, try baby steps. That could mean pulling someone into shadow you as an initial step toward letting them take over the work themselves, or delegating a piece of the work but not the whole and seeing how that goes (and then delegating more or all of it if the first piece goes well). For example, if you’re hoping to delegate the writing of your customer newsletter but feel nervous about letting go, you might ask your staff member simply to do an initial draft of the next one, before you commit to fully transitioning the project. You can then see how that goes and move more of the responsibility over as your staff member shows she’s able to handle it.

One more key to loosening the reins: It’s a lot easier to delegate work if you have a strong system set up for managing it, so that you know that you’ll have the chance for input and opportunities to spot any problems. That means that you should be checking in regularly with your staff as work unfolds, giving feedback, and asking questions. Delegating doesn’t mean throwing a project at someone and disappearing – you should stay involved to provide guidance and oversight (with the amount depending on the skills and experience of the person you’ve delegated to).

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