How to Master the Art of Delegation in 3 Steps

UPDATED: July 20, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 20, 2023
boss delegating task to employee

Whether you’re launching a new business as the sole employee or you’ve been successfully running things for a few years, there’s no doubt that you’re busy checking off tasks on your to-do list. But just because you’re doing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re accomplishing. It can feel paradoxical. Getting your inbox to zero might feel like progress, but not if you’re just avoiding larger, more meaningful tasks to help your business grow. This is where learning how to delegate effectively is useful.

How to delegate successfully

When you become a leader, the paradox shifts slightly. You need to inspire others to accomplish more while being less involved. This is a difficult transition for leaders. The move from doing to delegating is not an easy one. It requires communication, trust and a solid team. 

To figure out the best arrangement for your needs, first determine the duties you must handle. Then figure out what duties you can delegate to someone else. Once you’ve done that, follow the steps below to increase your impact while decreasing your involvement.

1. Hire the right employees for your needs.

When selecting your team, take time to understand them not as employees, but as people—people with individual strengths, dreams and desires. Sometimes leaders place people in positions that don’t align with their strengths. When that team member doesn’t succeed, the leader wrongly places blame on the employee. It’s one thing to stretch the limits of your team’s capabilities, but don’t set them up for failure.

If you don’t have the budget to hire a full-time staff, consider hiring a skilled hourly assistant to delegate tasks to. Mindy Black, esthetician and owner of Inner Beauty Skincare Inc. in Lake Mary, Florida, says that with enough prescreening, you can identify a worker to make your life so much smoother.

Black says her assistants manage her social media accounts, handle daily bookkeeping, set up appointments and field calls. “The hourly assistant takes on the role of office manager, marketing manager or, if they’re OK with it, director of organized chaos,” she says. “I have set tasks and office responsibilities that my assistants [one per shift] are responsible for that are clearly defined in the job description and again during the interview.”

Alternatively, create an internship or apprentice program. If you feel you can teach someone valuable skills about running a business (not simply obtain free labor, which is illegal) and how to provide the support you need, consider it a viable option. Such an opportunity might appeal to students, as well as adults returning to the workforce and seeking current experience to beef up their résumés.

2. Communicate clearly when you delegate tasks.

How can you expect a team to execute your vision if they’re only vaguely aware of your dreams? Early on, schedule several sit-downs with every member of your team. Meet with them as a group and individually. They need to understand the big-picture goal, but encouraging them to participate in setting smaller company goals can also be a powerful motivational factor.

It’s a mistake to assume that hourly workers are capable of performing only menial tasks. Ask what they have an interest in learning and tackling and delegate those tasks to them. 

3. Walk the line.

Successful delegation can be tricky. You want to give your team members the freedom necessary to do their jobs without hovering over their shoulders, but you also can’t give them a map and wave goodbye from your corner office. Walk that line by understanding the work styles of your team and establishing clearly defined miniature goals. 

Host regular follow-up meetings to ensure everyone is on track. Use these meetings as an opportunity to celebrate small wins and address any speed bumps.

“I like having my hand in everything to know what’s going on at all times,” Black says, “because at the end of the day it’s my business and my responsibility. But it’s essential to let go of some responsibilities and have faith in the people I hired to handle tasks that continue to move my company forward, while I focus on doing my job and being the face of my brand.”

True leadership is about leveraging your talents to delegate and motivate a team to succeed. If you struggle with giving up the reins, open a conversation with your team members. Give them an opportunity to provide feedback and volunteer for increased responsibilities. Delegation positively impacts employee performance while creating space for you to focus on the large, important decisions that will move the organization forward.

This article was originally published in January 2015 and has been updated. Photo by baranq/Shutterstock

Tory Johnson is CEO and founder of Spark & Hustle, a weekly contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and a contributing editor of SUCCESS magazine.

John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose,aWall Street Journal and USA Todaybest-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.