Most misunderstood aspect of delegating at work

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On my last post, where the comments are especially good, Diana wrote that delegating has always been hard for her and she asked how a manager can overcome the following problem: “If the people I was managing didn’t know what I was doing that was more important than what I was delegating for them to do, they would get fussy and say (amongst each other) that I was a bad manager because I never did anything myself, I just pawned things off on them.”

This is a great opening to talk about one of the most misunderstood parts of delegating: You should delegate your most important work and keep the crappiest work for yourself. This way the people you delegate to will love what they are doing, and they will appreciate how much trust you have in them. You should do the crappy work yourself because it is so hard to lead people effectively if you are giving them crap to do.

If you are worried that they won’t do a good job on the important stuff, then coach them. Management does not mean getting the crap work off your plate to make time for important work. It means doing the crap work and doing a lot of coaching, and, if you’re really good, making time to take on projects to expand your own skills.

As a manager you always have to think about things from your team’s perspective. Three things to remember:

1. The people you supervise will think you “do nothing” if you do none of the crap work.

2. “Important work” means that it helps someone meet their own goals. So you should delegate to people not based on what is important to you, but what is important to them.

3. The number-one factor in job happiness for young people is training. If they think they’re learning a lot on the job, they’ll like the job. You need to constantly coach these employees and teach them new skills and ideas. If you don’t, you won’t be able to lead them.

So forget delegating the unimportant stuff. Just do it yourself. But ask yourself, if it’s so unimportant, why is anyone doing it?

11 replies
  1. Diana
    Diana says:

    Thank you for the detailed response. You make a very good point… well, all your points are good in all your blog posts, but this one was especially good because it answered questions I didn’t even think to ask.

  2. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Good posts on delegating. One thing I’d add: one person’s “crap job” can be another’s favourite task, or another’s great opportunity.

    For example, I research and write for a living, but am not skilled at making my documents look good — the desktop publishing side. For me, that’s a “crap job.” In my previous job, I used to delegate that whenever possible. An admin assistant with an artistic flare would welcome the opportunity to be creative (rather than just be typing someone’s letter, which was her main duty). Working with my documents helped two different admin assistants to move into marketing materials preparation roles, which they preferred.

  3. Suzie Bradley
    Suzie Bradley says:

    What if after delegating important work to someone, you get into trouble. Some very ambitious person may decide that she/he can do your job better and present claims to your boss to get your position. Isn’t it risky to delegate important parts of the work to your reports.

    * * * * * *

    Thanks for this excellent question, Suzie. The point here is to delegate so that you can do something bigger picture than the work sitting on your plate. If you cannot think in a big picture way once the work is off your plate, then there is no reason to delegate it in the first place. But the only way to learn to think big-picture is to take the risk and delegate the daily stuff.Also, something to think about: If the person you delegate to is better at doing your job than you are, why not give your job to that person and work on figuring out which job you would be great at? Why hold on to a job you’re not great at doing? We all deserve to be great, and we can only be great if we are catering to our strengths.


  4. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    Yep…. If you delegate all your important work to your subordinates, then how can you survive in the company as your employees do most of the important work ? Are you still important in the group?

  5. kevin
    kevin says:

    As a small business owner I find that I delegate based on these rules.

    1. If it’s something that directly affects the bottom line, I do it. This includes product development, marketing, and tactical and strategic planning. Because I know my vision I steer the ship on these issues.

    2. If it’s something I’m not particularly skilled at I find someone else to do it. That person will finish the task quicker, do a better job, and probably most important won’t get frustrated (because of their knowledge of the task) and ruin productive time.

    I don’t think you should delegate tasks based on their perceived “crapiness”. Each person should work towards their strengths. If you do this your team, office, business etc will become more efficient and more profitable. If somebody wants to be trained in a different area than do it, but when it’s crunch time I don’t want my star quarterback returning kicks.

  6. matchmaker
    matchmaker says:

    I live in Las Vegas. We have a Meyer lemon tree that every year gives us an over abundance of gorgeous lemons. Ours are huge also. Probably twice the size of lemons you see in the grocery store. You have to use them up though or they will give baked goods a metallic taste. The juice freezes well though and can be used for sauces and lemonade throughout the year.

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