Innovate January 2018 On The Cover

Struggling to Delegate?

Written By: Heather Parbst

7 Mental Blocks That Might Be Stopping You and How to Move Past Them

It does not come natural for many of us – this asking for help thing. We expect quality. We demand performance. We don’t tolerate mediocrity. We have high standards so we do things ourselves. That’s why our businesses are successful and our reputations are solid. The idea of handing off work to others can evoke real fear and resistance. Why would we risk the quality of our work? Especially when we know we can do it faster and better.

Maybe because in truth we are tired, and stretched too thin. Maybe work isn’t quite so fun anymore. We are frustrated that so much falls to us. We ask ourselves why our staff isn’t more productive. We miss our time to think and strategize, to be creative. We don’t have time to work on the business or spend with our families and friends. Our relationships take a hit under the strain, and our businesses just aren’t achieving the growth goals we had hoped for. We feel indispensable and overworked while it seems that our teams are out the door every day by five and aren’t as engaged. It seems like we are the only ones that care and takes ownership.

Enough already.

If the intro to this article resonated with you, consider how, what and if you are delegating. For some of us, delegation is scary and stirs fear or other negative thoughts not aligned with our long-term best interests or those of our organizations. Sometimes a simple shift on how we view delegation can make all the difference. So here are seven of the more common mental blockers that prevent us from delegating, along with some suggestions on how to change our perspective to move past them.

  1. I don’t have time to delegate. Indeed, there is a heavy initial up-front time cost. You need to teach your people exactly what you are expecting and provide support while they learn and practice their new skills. But ask yourself, “How much time will this save me in the future if I don’t have to do it anymore?”
  2. It won’t be done the way I would do it. Probably not, but what is more important? Having the work completed perfectly your way or having it completed successfully even if that success comes about differently?
  3. I’m the only one who knows how. Quite possibly, but why is that? Help your team build their skills by allowing them to learn. Consider giving them a portion of the work to complete on their own, and working up to the entire task over time. This builds their confidence and skill as well as your trust in them. Remember that in addition to delegating tasks, you will want to also delegate authority over time, as their skills increase.
  4. If someone else can do this, then I won’t be needed. It’s good to feel important, but is doing so costing you or your company? What could you do if you diverted that energy to bigger things? Is that task truly where you bring your best value? Are you using this as an excuse to play small and not take on more ambitious tasks or projects? Are you holding your team back from learning new skills by keeping these tasks to yourself?
  5. I want to do this because it’s fun. Certainly, if you legitimately find joy in the task, it may not be something to give up. We all have easy tasks that we could hand off but don’t. The question is, are you doing these tasks because you do really love them, or because they are in fact easy? By this, I mean are you using them as a form of procrastination so you don’t have to deal with the bigger fish that need frying? I used to steal the checks away from my office manager so that I could input them into our accounting system. Sure, I liked the process and receiving money is always nice. But my time would have been much better spent on other tasks.
  6. I’ve always done it. Just like you need to teach the skills around the tasks you are delegating to those who will be assuming those tasks for you, you also need to learn the skill of delegating. The response, “I’ve always done it,” simply doesn’t work if you do have any interest in scaling your organization or reducing your personal responsibilities over time.
  7. I feel guilty when I delegate. I struggled with this personally in the past. I felt like delegating implied that I thought the work was below me. And that in doing so, I was suggesting that I was better than others on my team. But I was missing the point. If you are a leader, your time should be spent leading. Your team wants to see prioritizing, making decisions and guiding them forward, not restocking the refrigerator. They know you can handle populating a spreadsheet. They want to see you working on the top-level things that will move the company forward.

Yes, digging in to help your team when you are short-staffed or to boost morale is important and sends a great message. But that message is that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and support them when there is a need. Performing tasks that can be delegated on an ongoing basis is different and is a disservice to you, your organization and the people your company serves. Not delegating can limit you as the leader from achieving your full potential as well as your team from building greater skills that can advance their careers. It also puts you at risk for burnout.

Ultimately if you want to scale (or retire – ever), you will need help and that requires delegation. So prioritize what is truly most important for you to do, build a team made of quality people you trust, and for both your benefit and theirs, begin building your delegation muscle.


Heather Parbst is a business consultant and founder of Clarity3 Consulting, a company helping organizations solve their operations, culture and leadership challenges. Heather uses her past experience owning, leading, growing, and selling a technology company along with a background in psychology to help her clients execute on their objectives, move toward organizational excellence and increase their impact.

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