One of the most emotionally challenging aspects of leading teams is delegation.

On the surface, it sounds quite simple. Just assign the task to someone else.

However, in order to delegate work to someone else, you must relinquish your control and put trust in someone else to handle the task. You need to confront your concerns about failure, or come to grips with whether or not anything less than what you could do on your own would be acceptable. You have to consider what it would mean to your reputation if you don’t do the work yourself, or the end product doesn’t measure up.

All of this is remarkably difficult, and the primary reason why many managers routinely find themselves saying “I’ll just handle it this time and delegate it next time.” Sadly, next time often never comes.

Mastering delegation is important. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today because I don’t want to waste your time reiterating that you have limited time, can’t do everything, and need to leverage the strength of your team to increase your chances of long term success.

Instead, I want to illuminate the three different types of delegators, in hopes that you can find their motivations inside of you.

Delegation Motivation: Boss Style

Motto: Do as little as possible.

“The boss” knows how to delegate work, and their reasoning is simple: the boss is in charge, the workers do the work. At some point, this type of manager was probably encouraged by their manager to delegate more work…and they took it to heart.

Here’s the message that they received.

A boss has a neatly designed role with a pay grade. Anything below that pay grade is a waste of time and should be handed off. Workers do the work and Managers manage, right?

Any manager motivated by their status and rank, who sees work as something to be done by their laborers, will likely adopt this delegation motivation. Over time, it becomes a game of “how-much-work-can-I-push-off-to-my-subordinates-and-get-away-with-it.” Their ultimate goal is to be able to do nothing, except tell others what to do. If they could hire a project manager to do that and report back in, well that would be even a little bit better.

This isn’t so much delegation as an abdication of responsibility due to a superiority complex.

Delegation Motivation: Manager Style

Motto: We all need to work together to get it all done.

A good manager sees their role as keeping everything in balance and moving forward.

Delegation for the collaborative manager is about making sure everyone is supporting one another to get everything done.

It’s a sort of puzzle to be solved.

When one person has too much on their plate, some of the load should be moved from one resource to another. The best managers here see themselves as part of this collaborative process, sharing the same commitment to the work as they expect from their team members.

This sort of delegation is motivated by balance and is undertaken in service of the work.

Delegation Motivation: Leadership Style

Motto: We need a team of leaders so everyone’s growth is a top priority.

Leaders delegate for two reasons.

  • The first is to create the conditions so they may have the space to place an intense focus on the highest priority items for the good of the team.
  • The second is to give others the chance to shine.

The work isn’t handed-off because the leader is lazy and doesn’t want to work. It’s not handed-off purely because a resource is available. The key difference is that work that is being delegated is not being handed down, it’s work that invites people up.


Let’s say you have a team of 5 people that work under you. 2 of those are directly below you, and the other 3 are below them. Every month, you have to deliver a report to your peers in other markets highlighting sales performance and operational efficiency. Based on the motivations, here’s how this scenario might be delegated.

The Boss

Your 5 team members are told to collect the sales number and generate a report. They are also going to go through the operations system and generate a report on completed and backlogged tickets. All of this information is then expected to be put into a slide deck for you to present to your peers.

The Manager

You and your team gather in a conference room to compile the information and create the slide deck. Team members are broken into groups to work on the sales numbers and operation system tickets. At the end, you work together to compile everything into a slide deck, where each team member is pictured and thanked for their contributions on the final slide.

The Leader

You meet with your team to discuss the monthly report. You show the team how you have presented this material in the past and then open it up to questions, comments, and suggestions. You let them know that because of all of their work on these areas of the business, that you would like them to present on behalf of the team.

You start by talking with your team member who has been most involved in sales and offering your support as they prepare. This includes answering questions, being a resources, and offering to run through their material prior to the presentation so that they feel comfortable presenting.

After that, you talk with your team member who has been most involved in operations and offer the same.

The rest of the team is asked to come together and support these two and ensure the presentation is a success.

Growing Responsibility

As a leader, you are responsible for the growth of your team members. Part of that means growing their responsibilities. That means more than getting things off of YOUR plate and having someone else do it simply because you don’t have time.

Don’t just delegate to do less. Delegate so others can do more.

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