Common Delegation Pitfalls

by Angela Civitella

Delegating is the key to a successful business and what sets bosses apart from true leaders. The hardest part? Knowing when to let go. Some leaders find themselves delegating tasks, then nervously hover over their team making sure they do it right. Well, if the team doesn’t do it right, it might be as much their leader’s fault as it is theirs.

Here are some of the top delegation mistakes leaders make and how to avoid them:

Failure to Understand What to Delegate to Whom

One of the top delegation mistakes is not knowing what to delegate. Do not delegate tasks that are not in tune with what a team is capable of, or, better yet, find out first what the team is capable of and then delegate. Don’t set people up for failure. Part of a leader’s job is knowing the strengths of each team member and assigning tasks at which they will excel.


Leaders who train their people well won’t need to micromanage. And if employees are micromanaged, they will never learn. Give enough space for people to make some decisions and grow; be supportive to ensure the work is done effectively. But first it is important to properly identify who has what responsibility, so everyone can focus on their task at hand.

Not Staying Involved to Monitor Progress

The last thing a leader wants to do is sway to the other extreme of micromanaging and not manage at all. There is nothing wrong with checking in once and awhile; it’s part of a leader’s job. Schedule check-in points to keep the team on alert that they need to perform with tangible and realistic deadlines. This reinforces accountability and expected results, helping the leader stay more hands-off.

Delegating Too Much at a Time

Do not wait till the last minute to delegate. If leaders procrastinate, their teams will feel it and so will they. Leaders should also not delegate just because they are feeling overwhelmed, as that often leads to making the wrong decision about who should be doing what. Be sensible about the choices, and be fair about how much time to allot someone to execute a task. Remember, it’s not just about the leader; it’s about his or her team, first. Leaders who are not sure about whom to delegate to should invest more time in their team to better understand who the right person is.

Delegating without Clarifying the Level of Authority 

It’s important that the person who is delegated the task understands the leader’s expectations. The leader needs to convey how much authority that person will have on the matter. Will he or she have free reign, or will the leader be monitoring decisions closely? This might depend on how complicated the task is, and it could also change as the project progresses.

Not Allowing for Mistakes and Failure

Mistakes are going to happen no matter how hard we try to avoid them. Very few mistakes are fatal and/or irreversible. Mistakes most often can be turned into opportunities and teachable moments. An environment that fosters people making mistakes and allowing for growth and change is the best of environments in which to grow. Pressure and stress, in the right measure, usually bring out the best in people. So, leaders need to know how to push and pull and, more importantly, create an environment where people can come to them without hesitation if something goes wrong.

Not Being Clear about the Goal, Vision and Timeline

Teams are not going to suddenly develop psychic abilities or guess their leader’s every expectation. Leaders need to be clear and as concise as possible. Share specific and well-defined expectations. What are the project goals? What is a realistic completion date? How will success be measured? Request the team’s buy-in. If they seem hesitant about taking on the task or project, perhaps reconsider or have a longer talk with them about why they are not sure they can do it before delegating.

Not Taking Time to Review the Work 

Trusting one’s employee is important, but that does not mean there’s no need to review their work and provide approval. Without this important check-point, a team has no way of knowing if they are on track. Leaders should always check everything that comes back to them. Don’t accept partially finished work; don’t redo anyone’s work. Provide the proper feedback so they can complete the task on their own and learn. If leaders monitor the task correctly (#2 above), this should rarely, if ever, be a problem.

The Takeaway

Delegation is not about dumping tasks on others. It is a fine art, and, if done properly, it will enable one’s team and business to flourish. It starts at the top, with leaders first recognizing they have too much to do and their time is maybe better spent on more top-level tasks. Then it takes careful planning and training for a successful hand-off. Avoiding these delegation mistakes takes some work and time, but the payoffs are exponential for everyone.

Angela Civitella is a business leadership coach and founder of the firm INTINDE

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