Are You Secretly Terrible at Delegation?

by | May 31, 2016

The Delegation Dilemma

When you don’t delegate, but rather decide to do everything yourself, you lock yourself in a sort of prison. Call it the Sisyphean prison. You are alone in completing a monumental task, or several tasks that together create something monumental. You are left pushing a boulder up a hill alone. What happens as you get closer to the top?

Are You Secretly Terrible at Delegation?

If you’re familiar with the Greek myth of Sisyphus, you already know what happens next. Sisyphus, the former king of Ephyra, pushed his boulder to the top of the hill, only to watch it roll back down again. His accomplishment was in vain. That doesn’t mean your accomplishments are in vain — but when you fail to delegate to your team, you may soon discover your accomplishments aren’t what you hoped they would be.

The boulder that is the success of your business will end up rolling back down the hill. You will have accomplished less than you intended.

Why do we do it? Or rather, why don’t we do it? Why is it so hard for us to delegate?

It’s human nature.

For some people, the resistance to delegate is rooted in low self-confidence. Some individuals feel that delegating a task may end up undermining their authority. It’s a feeling that stems from the subconscious, and most people who experience the feeling don’t realize their insecurity. It’s part of the “self-enhancement bias,” a term used by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University.


In this situation, when a manager does delegate a task, she may question her decision, question the person handling the task, and worry about the possibility that the person will end up doing a superior job, and thus, take all the credit. It may sound like backward thinking, especially in a professional environment, but it’s human nature, and it often goes against logic.

It’s a fear of failure.

Another reason people hesitate to delegate has to do with the fear of failure — specifically the failure of the person or team handling the task. A manager may make the assumption that the team won’t be able to complete the task or they won’t complete it to a certain standard.

This feeling almost always comes from prior experience. A manager delegated a critical task or project, and the results fell short. The responsibility — the “failure” — then came back to the manager who ended up looking bad. It was an embarrassing situation and something the manager doesn’t want to repeat.

It’s the desire to multitask.

Octopus In Business

There are also those who are convinced they can multitask. These are people who believe they can handle everything that comes their way, and because of that, there is no reason to delegate. The problem with this line of thinking? Multitasking is a myth.

When we take on several tasks at once, our brains quickly become overwhelmed. A study by the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University found that when we split our focus between two activities, brain activity (focus) plummets. You can’t give both activities 100 percent. Instead, you give them 50 percent. As Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation” would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Your brain will thank you — and the results will speak for themselves.

It’s the drive to do everything.

For many business owners who struggle with delegation, fear and lack of confidence can come into play, but their pursuit to do it all often goes deeper. For business owners, above managers, supervisors, or leads, more is at stake. They want to see their business succeed (sometimes even at the expense of everything else).

To that end, some business owners have convinced themselves that they are the keystone of the business. Or to once again borrow from Greek mythology, they are fulfilling the role of Atlas, holding up the sky. They feel that they must do everything and be involved in every minute detail. If they remove themselves from any aspect of business, it will all come crashing down.

What can you do? How can you put aside human nature to think logically and delegate?

It’s time to stop pushing the boulder up the hill all by yourself. It’s time to stop carrying the sky on your back. Delegating starts with accepting the fact that it’s critical to the success of your business and the success of your team. It requires confidence, as well as the ability to communicate what needs to be done. Business owners, managers, supervisors, and others who are still attempting to push the boulder — you must realize you need to change your behavior.

Win Win Puzzle Concept

Much of it comes down to accountability. You must be willing to hold yourself accountable and employ a team that will hold you accountable. You must recognize when it’s time to hand over a task or project. Are you becoming overwhelmed or feeling exhausted? It’s time to delegate. Is your team struggling to remain productive? It’s time to delegate.

Delegation is proof positive of leadership ability. When you delegate, you build trust and strengthen relationships within your team and business as a whole. That trust serves as motivation for your team to excel. Delegation also imparts purpose within an organization — purpose built on trust, and purpose that invests your team in the future success of the business.

Challenge yourself to start delegating more today. Look within your organization. What can your team do for you? What can your team do for one another? Ask yourself, ask your team, and come together to push the boulder to the top of the hill. If it slips, someone will be there to catch it, and together, you will make it to the top.

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