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To become a great leader, learn the art of delegation

May 12, 2022
Sometimes the most powerful thing a great leader can do is know when to hand off a task.

Knowing when to delegate is one of the best skills a leader can possess. Effective delegating:

  • Makes sure the job is done by an individual or team capable of successfully completing it
  • Gives the leader more time to spend on leadership functions (e.g., building the team, planning development, and executing the vision)
  • Gives the right degree of freedom to those doing the task so that they are not over-supervised or given a job they cannot complete without support
  • Allows the individual or team to maximize skills and knowledge development
  • Reduces sources of potential conflict within the team

Why leaders fail to delegate 

Fear of change, trust issues, the inability to train, and loss of control and power are common challenges that pop up when delegating. Saying, “I'll do it myself,” is based on fear of change and lack of trust. How about, “I can do it better.” This may be true, at least in the beginning, but if you praise a student and provide the necessary training, they can do it well. That means one more thing off your plate.

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You may have convinced yourself that “It's easier to do it myself.” So, change your mindset. The adage, Feed a man a fish, feed him for the day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime applies here. You can spend 20 minutes every day doing something your business assistant should be doing and thus spend 86 hours doing that task during the next five years. Or, you can spend three hours one day training your business assistant to do it, and not have to devote any time on it ever again. You could also be thinking, “It will just take a few minutes,” and this may be true, but that’s time taken away from other higher-priority tasks. If you fill your day with routine/minor tasks, you will never get to the high-leverage tasks.

You may have felt that you don't want to lose control. People who are perfectionists by nature are uncomfortable delegating; some use their position to profess power or make themselves look good in the doctor’s eyes. This lack of trust in anyone else’s ability to do things perfectly will prevent elevating employees to be self-directed and destroy teamwork.

Strategies to move past the stumbling blocks       

  • Delegate unless you are indeed the only one who can do something.
  • Review the positive and negative results and implications if something isn't done quite the same way you would. If the results meet your standards, listen to why the person selected another avenue to get the same results. Maybe it isn't such a bad idea. Be clear on expectations and mandates, then be flexible on the pathway to get there. Be results-oriented rather than activity- (do it my way) focused.
  • Let go.
  • Give up control once you are confident in the other person’s capability.
  • Share the credit.
  • Develop trust in others’ ability to complete tasks accurately and successfully. Train, explain, set the standards and expectations, and ask for agreement.
  • Give up on your guilt trip. It would help if you worked at getting over the feeling that you must do everything that everyone else does or feel guilty by giving additional assignments or responsibilities.
  • Don’t take things back. This may send the message I wanted to trust you, but I really don’t.
  • Use this question when you feel the tug of “doing it all.” Is this the highest and best use of my time, and if not, how can I do it for the very last time?

Deciding which tasks to delegate

Make it your goal to spend only 20% of your time on low-leverage tasks and 80% of your time on high-leverage tasks. 

Low-leverage tasks:

  • Routine minor/day-to-day jobs
  • Jobs that other team members can do as well as you
  • Jobs that team members can do better than you because of their specialized knowledge
  • Jobs that will provide a challenge for those involved and help develop their skills

High-leverage tasks: 

  • Jobs that require your personal attention, as no one else has the authority or experience to do them
  • Jobs that involve the long-term development of the team, such as leadership roles: These include training, planning, gaining commitment, motivating the team, setting up control and evaluation systems, setting and agreeing to objective and crafting a vision

Delegating increases morale, confidence, and productivity

It is crucial for a leader to show trust. A boss that takes over subordinates’ responsibilities, constantly looks over their shoulder, and sticks their nose in their every doing creates very dissatisfied people. They feel like their leader has no confidence in them. Conversely, employers who give important responsibilities to their employees, along with the freedom to complete the task their way, build their employees' innovation, morale, and satisfaction.

Give ample freedom to complete the task

Once you delegate a responsibility, you place your trust in the team member to carry out the job. Constantly jumping back in to check on how things are going will show them that you don’t really trust them. These actions will erode morale and impede productivity, creativity, and success. Give the person room to successfully complete their assignment, and remember, while there is an agreed-upon goal, they don't have to get there precisely how you would get there. Let them do things their way.


Periodically follow-up with the person, not necessarily to stick your nose in, but to see if they have any questions or concerns that need to be addressed. Giving ample freedom doesn't mean you never check in.

Give credit where credit is due

When a project is a success, share in rewards and give credit. When you ask others to take on responsibilities, you cannot ask them only to share in the risk and drudgery, and not the rewards and glory.

If you delegate well, you can increase trust and commitment with your employees, improve productivity, and make sure the right people are performing the tasks that best suit them. So, don’t be afraid to pass the baton. It might take some practice to become a great delegator, but if you work at it, you’ll all go further. Remember—no one can do it all!        

About the Author

Cindy Ishimoto

Cindy Ishimoto has coached, trained, and delivered presentations for over 35 years. Her focus is on helping practices serve patients, stay profitable, and enjoy the profession. She is well-known for her expertise in developing leaders, creating passionate teams, and building a positive workplace culture. Cindy has been named a Leader in Consulting by Dentistry Today from 2006-2021.

Updated May 11, 2022