7 Obstacles to Successful Delegation

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Image by Uwe Kils and Wiska Bodo, Wikimedia Commons

In an earlier article we looked at When and How to Delegate. Delegation is an essential skill for all managers and leaders and seems fairly straight forward once it’s put in place. But planning to delegate and familiarizing yourself with the delegation process may not be enough to overcome some of the most common obstacles to successful delegation.  It doesn’t help that most of these obstacles are like icebergs – largely hidden below the surface. Be prepared. In order to master the fine art of delegation, you will likely have to navigate around one or more of these seven obstacles.

1. Not enough time: Although one of the main benefits of delegation is saving time, a common reason cited for not delegating is lack of time. Leaders feel there is not enough time to properly explain the task or to teach someone the skills necessary to complete the task.

Admittedly, the first time you delegate a task it will likely take longer to complete than it would if you did it yourself. Your delegation return on investment soon becomes apparent as repeating tasks and tasks requiring similar skill sets are passed on to increasingly competent team members.

2. Fear: One of the most common obstacles to successful delegation is fear in various guises: fear of losing control of a task; fear that an employee will either make costly mistakes or do a better job; fear of losing touch with what’s going on; and fear that authority will be diminished.

3. Ego: Sometimes people fail to delegate a task because they enjoy doing it or feel no one else can do it as well. Holding onto a task you enjoy, even when it interferes with your ability to accomplish other critical tasks, is self-indulgent and not in the best interest of the organization or your team. When you’re holding on because you think others lack the ability to do the task, you’ve simply identified an employee development need. Use training in combination with delegation to develop the necessary skills in other members of your team.

4. Interfering: Some managers have difficulty giving up control or trusting others to successfully complete tasks independently. Micro-managing, continually checking up on employees or hovering over them while they attempt to do the tasks you’ve delegated, is another common obstacle to successful delegation. In order to delegate successfully, you have to give up any tendency toward excessive meddling.

5. Lack of Planning: In order to delegate successfully, you must clearly explain the desired outcomes of the task being delegated. While you may be able to work intuitively, relying on your cumulative experience and knowledge to guide you, the person you are delegating to needs more explicit directions. In order to provide that direction, you need to think things through in advance. Another reason for planning ahead is to make sure enough time is allowed to identify the right employee for the task, explain the requirements to that employee person and allow enough time for that person to complete the task. Attempting to delegate without planning will undermine your efforts and may unintentionally sabotage your employee.

6. Employee resistance: Sometimes the obstacle to successful delegation is on the receiving end.  Employees push back against delegation. Resistance might stem from an unwillingness to take on additional responsibility, fear of failing or exposing a weakness, or even a genuine concern that the task is beyond their abilities.  An effort should be made to understand the source of the resistance and provide the training, support or encouragement your employees need to accept delegation as part of their ongoing development.

7. Over delegation: The final obstacle to successful delegation might be described as “too much of a good thing.” Overburdening an employee with too many assignments and then leaving them to it can be just as unproductive as not delegating at all, or delegating and interfering. When delegating tasks and authority, make sure that workload is reasonable and your people have adequate time, resources and support to succeed.


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Canadian Management Centre. Climb Higher Leadership Development Program

Delegating. Park Scholarships Leadership Skills Training. North Carolina State University. http://www.ncsu.edu/project/parkprgrd/PSTrainingModules/delegating/del12frame.htm

Management Innovations. Obstacles in the Delegation Process.  https://managementinnovations.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/obstacles-in-the-delegation-process/

National Federation of Independent Business. Overcoming Barriers to Effective Delegation. http://www.nfib.com/article/overcoming-barriers-to-effective-delegation-32742/

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