How to delegate and get results

We all want outstanding results in our job, numerous as mushrooms in the wood. And yet, it happens to see individuals in leadership roles hesitating to delegate burdensome tasks, taking the risk to deliver less than expected at the end of the day.

WHY YOU CAN'T DELEGATE. Mainly it happens for two apparent reasons:
  • Apprehension for being blamed or damaged in case of mistakes done by others. Namely, the fear to be considered responsible for something delegated in good faith and then done wrong.
  • To take the opportunity to be at the podium for successful actions.
Two unpleasant consequences of the above:
  • People who don't trust in their mates don't receive trust in turn. For individuals that work as functional managers, the propensity to show distrust is a deleterious limit for both the personal and the team growth. For a project manager, particularly in a matrix organization, such a lack in confidence can be even more detrimental, as it can frustrate team members AND put at risk the project results.
  • Subordinates' professional satisfaction relies on the possibility to receive assignments and prove autonomously the ability to deliver. The goal to be rewarded in first person is legitimate, but an inordinate and excessive centralization of the work on the project leader may jeopardize the success of the project and demotivate the resources working on it.
Like it or not, like other professionals, I have not been an exception to the above sometimes in the past and I did strive to get out from that vicious circle.

A clarification: this post deals with the option to delegate some of your tasks, empowering a trusted person to do what you should, on your behalf. That is different from monitoring and ensuring people do what they have to do because so dictated by procedures.
If you are still puzzled, think about a sovereign that sends an ambassador to communicate on his behalf, or simply when you (kindly) ask your wife to withdraw a box emailed to you, on your behalf. That's the meaning of "delegate".


Among all the behavioural competences that a project manager has to have to survive in a demanding scenario, one of the most important is the orientation to the results.

The accomplishment of the results is the top priority. It should be, per sè, a good incentive not only to check others' performances but also for overcoming a personal attitude that leads to centralize all the work on the own person, even when time to delegate comes.
  • You have to organize a sponsor meeting, but being out of office you cannot but rely on your deputy to set every details. 
  • You have to delegate a key presentation to a team member.
  • You decide to assign a time consuming activity, that you were supposed to do, to an external provider in order to free yourself and meet a mandatory deadline.
Undoubtedly, in delegating a task, you loose the direct control on it. We are back to the first two bullets of the post, you may win or loose because of that choice.
But the basic idea that should guide you is that, as soon as you delegate, you earn potential time for something else. The reason behind such decision is still that the planned results are to be met, and exceeded.

So, the risk associated with passing to someone else your task, regardless it is a chance for success or the risk to bear a failure, needs to be balanced by the objective advantage to gain time for a work to be done in parallel.
Overall, the decision needs to bring more value added than what you expect to get keeping everything on your own shoulders.

The point here being that it is all about trust and orientation to results, as opposed to a personal ego which tends to blindly overwhelm the targets.


Unless you select random the resource to which you need to delegate a specific task and you don't spend sufficient time to train that person, there is plenty of reasons to feel relaxed:
  • A personal growth. Yes! Coaching is one the best thing you can do as a manager. It helps people to deliver but it also increases your communication skills.
  • Time management. By delegating something to someone, you are saving time to be spent on priority tasks and you are optimizing your overall agenda. That's very good!
  • Investment on subordinates. A person who is well trained can assist you again in the future and s/he will be strongly motivated by being considered your trusted replacement for something important for you.
  • Results. The idea that the results of a task delegated to someone are less or, at best, equal to the results that you may obtain with your own work is just wrong. I consider that assumption as an outcome of a primitive reluctance to delegate and of a lack in confidence. A delegated well selected and guided according to the requirements can absolutely EXCEED your expectations and that's amazing!
Furthermore, it has to be noted that a task delegated is not a task that you can't supervise. You still have the chance to check the progress and put in place any corrective action that you may deem needed before the delegated gets bogged down.


According to the situational leadership theory, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard
during the mid-1970s, individuals can be grouped per maturity levels into 4 areas:

- Unable and insecure
- Low experience and expertise, but high motivation
- High experience and expertise, but low motivation
- High experience and expertise and highly confident

Accordingly, the leadership style needs to change. The analysis of that goes beyond the target of these notes, so I will just mention that the group including people suitable to accept delegation and expected to succeed without being watched every minute is the fourth, that one composed by individuals characterized by high experience and high motivation.
Clearly, it is up to the leader the correct association of the team members with each one of the above groups. So before delegating, it is worth to know who you are going to delegate.