4 Honest Reasons You Don’t Delegate

This post is written by Jenni Catron. Jenni is is an author, speaker, and leadership expert. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults organizations on leadership, team culture, and organizational strategy. Jenni is the author of several books and is the host of the Jenni Catron Leadership Podcast.

By Jenni Catron:

“I don’t have time to teach someone else how to do it.”

“It will be quicker if I just do it myself.”

Chances are you’ve used one of those excuses when you’ve taken on a task that you should have delegated.

The very thing we say we don’t have time for is the primary thing we need to give time to.

A number of years ago one of my leaders sat me down for some tough feedback. He simply said, “What you’re doing is not good. You are going to wear yourself out.” Our organization had grown significantly and as a result, my team had expanded exponentially. I was running myself ragged and was simultaneously exhausting my team.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the story in Exodus 18. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, pays a visit after God has delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. It’s a victorious time and I can imagine Moses is feeling a bit reenergized as a leader.

Verse 13 tells us, “Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people”. It’s back to business as usual… a role that Moses likely felt confident in. Better yet, he was probably eager for his father-in-law to see him in action. It was an opportunity to prove that he is capable and confident in leading God’s people.

To Moses’ surprise, rather than praising his leadership, Jethro says, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

I bet you can relate… “you will only wear yourselves out”, “the work is too heavy”, “you can’t handle it alone.”

And as a wise leader would, Jethro goes on to give Moses a solution. He instructs him to delegate. He tells Moses to appoint leaders over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens so that Moses is only handling the most difficult work.

As my leader shared the Jethro and Moses story I saw that I was doing the same thing. I was adding and adding but not appropriately delegating.

Delegation is a leadership skill that is extraordinarily difficult for most leaders. A big team and a busy schedule are often a badge of honor, but they are short-sighted and unsustainable.

Lack of delegation is a limit to your leadership that affects both you and those you lead.

Lack of delegation is a limit to your leadership that affects both you and those you lead. @JenniCatron Click To Tweet

Our responsibility as leaders is to be intentional stewards of our resources starting with ourselves and cascading to our teams. One of the most precious resources you have to steward is your time as a leader.

If you’re trying to do too much… if you’re too involved in the details… if you’re trying to manage too many team members, you are going to wear yourself out and consequently your team.

For most of us, like Moses, our span of control has gotten too wide. We have convinced ourselves that we need to keep leading this person or this initiative. We keep adding and adding rather than developing and delegating.

In our desire to create highly effective teams we must first be willing to look at ourselves and consider where we may be inhibiting development by not adequately delegating. If we truly want to lead great teams, we must be committed to being honest about why we don’t delegate.

4 Reasons You Don’t Delegate

1. You don’t make your team a priority.

A simple way to make your team a priority is to commit to meeting one-on-one with your direct reports consistently.
Author and speaker Marcus Buckingham says, “The perfect span of control is the number of people you can have a check-in with every week.”

Yes, the expectation is one-on-one, once a week. Maybe it’s 30 minutes. Maybe it’s an hour. The amount of time may vary by role and personality, but regular weekly time with your direct reports is essential to delegating well.

If you are not spending intentional time with your team weekly you are missing an enormous opportunity to train, develop, delegate and coach.

If you are not spending intentional time with your team weekly you are missing an enormous opportunity to train, develop, delegate and coach. @JenniCatron Click To Tweet

2. You don’t value development.

Your greatest work as a leader will be done through others. This perspective is essential for every leader to embrace. You are not in a position of leadership to do all the work. You are in a position of leadership to work with and through others.

Your team is your greatest investment. The more intentional you are to give them devoted time (ie, the weekly one-on-one meeting), the more aligned they will be with your vision, the clearer they’ll understand what you value and the more empowered they’ll be to take action.

If you are not prioritizing development, it is fool-hearted to expect your team to learn and grow.

If you are not prioritizing development, it is fool-hearted to expect your team to learn and grow. @JenniCatron Click To Tweet

3. You don’t trust your team to take responsibility.

I often hear leaders express frustration over the lack of initiative or ownership demonstrated by their team. When I dig a little deeper I find that the team doesn’t feel trusted or empowered to take action.

What commonly occurs is that when an employee takes initiative and it doesn’t quite meet the leader’s expectations, the leader swoops in and redirects with little explanation.

Lack of explanation leaves the employee confused about what they could have done differently and as a result, they exert less effort the next time, essentially waiting for their leader to direct the details so that they can do what is needed.

They don’t feel empowered so they don’t take responsibility. The leader senses the lack of responsibility so they micromanage the details and the cycle repeats itself.

If you are not adequately empowering your team by providing feedback and direction, it is unfair to expect them to take greater responsibility.

If you are not adequately empowering your team by providing feedback and direction, it is unfair to expect them to take greater responsibility. @JenniCatron Click To Tweet

4. You don’t want to look bad.

This one requires a bit of healthy self-awareness to honestly answer this question: Are you afraid a little bit of failure will make you look bad?

Mistakes are part of learning and growing. In order to empower your team, you must give them room to try and sometimes fail.
Will letting the ball drop allow them to learn? Will what the employee gains in experience outweigh the consequence to the organization?

Any miss or failure is likely to have some impact on the organization but is it one that can be easily absorbed in order to help the employee learn from it? Will the short-term cost be worth the long-term gain? Count the cost and make the best decision for everyone involved.

If you are worried more about your image than about helping someone grow, it is time to reevaluate your leadership priorities.

If you are worried more about your image than about helping someone grow, it is time to reevaluate your leadership priorities. @JenniCatron Click To Tweet

In order to get the best from our people, we must be sure they are getting the best from us. Leaders who are leading themselves well and developing the best in others lead healthy and thriving organizations!

What holds you back from delegating?

Leave a comment and share what holds you back from delegating. What have you learned through delegating to others?

4 Honest Reasons You Don’t Delegate

12 Comments

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  3. word finder on November 2, 2021 at 4:35 am

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  4. Deb on October 21, 2021 at 10:02 pm

    I think the challenge becomes when you are working with volunteers who have jobs and family responsibilities. I work for a church, and so volunteers are totally what make up my teams. For me, it is a struggle to delegate things to them since I know they are already busy, but then it REALLY feels like a lot to think that I would also want to meet with them on a weekly basis. That is my struggle: trying to figure out how much I can actually delegate to volunteers and also hold them accountable to completing the task well. How do you find the balance when it comes to volunteers?

  5. Josh Stumbo on October 20, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing. I once had one of my employees ask “why do take certain projects and work them yourself?” At the time I responded “humbly” indicating I didn’t want to burden my team with these menial tasks. However, if I was honest, I may have been taking on these projects to validate my own abilities rather than promoting my team. I’m so grateful my team called me out on this and I was able to reassess.

  6. Jen Wilson on October 19, 2021 at 6:42 pm

    So poignant for me. Development. Ugh. So easy to identify and hard to do. This is an area for me to ‘develop!’
    Thank you for this!

  7. Brady Johnson on October 19, 2021 at 9:15 am

    This article is fantastic and is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  8. Justin Mitteness on October 18, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    To delegate well requires discipline on the one delegating. In order to have your objective met, allowed the employee to do their part and grow personally I believe it comes with clear expectations and follow up.

    As I’ve delegated in the past I ask if there is clarity and then I ask what questions may be out there. Then I set up a follow up meeting in the future (well before a deadline) to review progress , learn of any concerns the team member had or problem they ran into. Then affirm the final deadline. When it comes time to deliver, we either win or lose together and because I have stayed invested I’ve observed more wins than losses.

    Depending on the task and the level of knowledge of the team member around the outcome more or less restrictions can be applied to their role. Example: create a graph and spreadsheet to show the impacts of the change. Example 2: Here, upload the data into this spreadsheet and refresh the macro I’ve built. This will generate the graphs that will show the impacts of the change.

  9. Katie Lowe Lancaster on October 18, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    Whether a team leader or a team member, I admit, I make mistakes, and I fail – sometimes I fail – big time. That is because I am human! But to hold back, micromanage, limit things like creativity, mutual ministry, growth, learning, sharing, joy, relationship-building opportunities, seems to lack a bigger picture of what is at stake here – trust, self-awareness, and a sense of community. The hardest question I believe should be the easiest…Do we trust one another? When we offer to “proof” something or to follow another person’s decision, is our offer to “help” seen by another team partner as wanted assistance, or are we indirectly still micromanaging? From my experience working on multiple teams, I believe once an individual has experienced a healthy and mentoring leadership team, they will always seek it out again. Because in that environment they and their partners feel valued, the work is more meaningful, and everyone tries to work to their full potential! The opposite is true for a worker who is micromanaged but has gifts that are not being utilized. They may experience that in that context they are being suffocated, diminished, and they are not working to their full potential. When a team member has clear expectations upfront for their input and responsibilities and when the culture of the team is to support one another then the entire team can better understand their role as team partners. I am sorry for the times I have made the mistake of releasing someone too soon into a key role, or sort of releasing them but not really or finding a person with amazing gifts for the wrong task. I am a work in progress as a leader and as a team partner.

  10. Tim Neisler on October 18, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    You just fsiled.

  11. Laura on October 18, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    I delegate all the time, and it usually goes as planned. What is HARD is when I’m required to delegate a tedious task to someone who makes mistakes or fails to make necessary changes to a copy/paste type task. The mistakes are not only embarrassing for the company, they are a disservice to our members. Nobody else seems to catch them but me which makes me seem like a real nag. My tolerance for this ended a couple months ago, and yet I’m still being required to delegate tasks to the same person…and still dealing with mistakes. It would be so much easier if I could just do it myself–way less stress for everyone involved. And yet, I’m being “promoted” so I “have” to delegate.

  12. Jeffery Robert on October 18, 2021 at 6:36 am

    The worry of failure & efficiency…. I allow myself to do it myself cause in the moment it seems it will be quicker to do myself. The failure part is that I carry it and own it. So if I delegate it and it fails I don’t want to be looked at as the fsilure

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