Avoid These 7 Delegation Mistakes

Published May 9, 2022

Delegating is far more than just assigning tasks to others.

"It's not just about shuffling things around. It frees you up to work on things that are highest and best use for your level," said Tamera Loerzel, a partner with ConvergenceCoaching LLC in Prior Lake, Minn. "It also offers crucial opportunities for you to help employees learn and grow."

As a career coach, Loerzel spends a lot of time teaching others to delegate more effectively, and she has identified a handful of common mistakes that many leaders make. At her session at AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE 22, "Becoming a Powerful and Effective Delegator," she'll identify common pitfalls and discuss how they can be avoided, including the following:

Not trusting staff to handle tasks. It is common for leaders to worry that less experienced colleagues may not be ready for a task. However, "if we convince ourselves that people are not ready or we are afraid to challenge them, they may never develop the skills they need to grow and take on more," Loerzel said.

  • Insisting that everything be done your way. Some people don't delegate because they suffer from the "do it my way" syndrome, Loerzel said. "There are many paths to reach the end game," she said. "Define your deal breakers — non-negotiables or must-haves — and let the rest go. Not allowing people to put their stamp on assignments puts you at risk of becoming a bottleneck, being viewed as controlling, stifling organizational creativity and motivation, or surrounding yourself with helpers who never become owners. What's more, you can "get stuck and never innovate, get better, or learn new ways" to do things, she pointed out.

  • Not taking the time to train others. Influential leaders understand that they can't be the only person who knows how to do something, so they invest the time and resources to train others. Even if you have to rework some of the assignments that novices have completed, remember that "the learning you've provided is invaluable" to others, she said.
  • Delegating the wrong kinds of tasks. The most important thing is to recognize what should and shouldn't be delegated, Loerzel said. A task that's delegated should be a specific assignment delivered with a deadline. It has to be supported with the required information. Ideally, it will be a task that's repeatable, so if you need to train someone to do it, the time spent training them will pay off in the future.

  • Overwhelming staff with too-large tasks. Get to know your colleagues to assess who can handle certain tasks and who is capable of more complicated assignments. Then, deliver tasks in "bite-sized" pieces to prevent overwhelming staffers with a huge job and to provide the opportunity to learn in more manageable components that build upon each other.

  • Being too vague in your requests. When delegating, be specific about the assignment, the objectives, parameters, due date, and preferred delivery method. Follow up with the instructions in writing. In your follow-ups, include what should happen, who will get it done, how each person will report their status, and next steps, Loerzel said.
  • Not offering enough support. Once you delegate, set up check-ins to build staff's confidence and to troubleshoot to prevent issues from blowing up. Avoid taking the project back if the new owner stumbles or encounters issues. This can make someone "feel like a failure, which inhibits their confidence in completing future tasks," Loerzel said.

For all leaders, delegation is a crucial skill that can constantly be improved. "We can all be better delegators," she said. "Being an effective delegator drives employee engagement by investing in staff and building their skills and confidence as they grow in their career."

Source: (AICPA & CIMA – CPA Letter Daily - Journal of Accountancy – April 25, 2022)