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You can do anything, but not everything. It’s a concept preached by productivity expert David Allen and, in our hearts, we all know it’s pretty accurate. No one person can handle every task associated with their business, no matter how intelligent, educated or effective they are. The ability to delegate and achieve success go hand-in-hand.


So why are we so bad at it?


Truthfully, delegating can be a difficult task for a myriad of reasons. Some originate with the person doing the delegating, and some stem from those who are receiving the work. External factors – like company hierarchy or resources – can even come into play. The easiest way to improve your ability to delegate is to identify the obstacles you face and plot the course to overcome them. Problems are just opportunities in disguise.


Sir Richard Branson realized the power of delegation a long time ago, and credits his ability to delegate as a big contributor to his success. The secret, he says, is knowing your own skills and interests and those of your team, along with maintaining a roster of outside talent.


“When I try a new task and find it’s not my cup of tea, or I’m simply not cut out to do it, I delegate it to someone who is passionate about the work, knowing that person will do a great job,” Branson wrote in a New York Times column. “This is part of our philosophy at Virgin: we aren’t limited by the skills of the people on our team, but also employ hundreds of agencies, contractors and freelancers.”


Branson has found it’s easier to delegate when you fill your card with people you trust, and who share your vision and want to improve upon it. When you delegate, it frees up your time to focus on what you do best.


Once you have your team in place, what’s next? Here are five quick tips for more effective delegation.



1. Break Down the Barriers


If delegation is hard for you, do some soul searching to identify what exactly is standing in your way. The loss of control associated with passing work off to someone else can cause a great deal of anxiety for some people, while others feel they don’t have the time to properly explain the task to whomever is taking over.


Most of these obstacles are a matter of perception and are easily addressed. For example, regular updates about the status of a project can help you keep tabs on it. If you feel pressed for time, remember teaching someone else to do it is a one-time investment that will pay off the next time the task needs to be undertaken.


2. Choose Wisely


Selecting the right person for the task can take the pain out of the process. As Branson noted, having a good grasp of your team’s skills and interests is a must. You must also recognize potential development opportunities. Do your own due diligence and define exactly what you are looking for, then match the person with the job at hand. Don’t fall into the trap of assigning work based on which employee is the least busy, unless you have multiple people with identical skill sets.


And don’t wait too long to do it. Choices made when you’re burned out or at the last minute can come back to bite you in the end. Being proactive and staying organized – and realizing when things are piling up – are essential to effective delegation.


3. Patience is a Virtue


Before you can unload a stack of files on someone’s desk, you need to make sure they’re prepared to do the job. That means you may have to slow down and walk them through the project, filling in any gaps in their knowledge along the way. Ensure the person has the tools and time to complete the task, and a full understanding of what is expected of them.


People are our greatest investment. We can empower our team by teaching new skills and increasing responsibilities; however, proper guidance and leadership is needed to have this succeed. Remember that failure is part of the process and it’s likely your team member may face a few setbacks along the way. Be understanding and flexible.


4. Avoid Reverse Delegation


There will be times when a job you’ve assigned falls flat. Unless the situation is dire, resist the urge to take back the task and instead treat the situation as a learning opportunity. Work alongside the person and coach them through it, giving them any assistance or resources needed along the way. By taking back tasks prematurely, it demonstrates a lack of commitment and decision-making power.


5. The Whole Package


Delegation is more than just the act of handing over a task: it also means handing over responsibility. Avoid micromanaging the situation but keep the lines of communication open so there are no surprises. Mapping out a timeline at the start of the project will make it easy for you to check in on its status periodically without looking over the shoulder of the employee. Demonstrate trust in them and their skills.


When the work is completed, let the world know by giving credit where it is due. Praising the person for a job well done – and making sure everyone else knows too – will give them satisfaction and make them eager to take on new tasks.



Though it may be difficult at times, especially for entrepreneurial types who pride themselves on doing it all, delegation is a vital ingredient in the recipe for success. In fact, omitting it may be the difference between achieving your dreams and falling short. So do yourself a favor and remember the words of Andrew Carnegie: “No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”

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