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Too Much On Your Plate? Delegate



Recently I was talking with my client Claire, a needlework designer, about the need to start delegating some of her work. She was overwhelmed with the amount of work on her plate and she felt that she needed to do it all herself.

Claire is like many other small business entrepreneurs  who have a hard time delegating. It is hard to leverage your time to work on your business if you are always working in your business. Claire, like so many small business owners, had a fear of assigning work to others. (Control issues, anyone?) When you looked at this on a deeper level, you can discovered a few common reasons.

First, Claire was afraid that if she had someone else do a task, they would not do it as well as she could. Of course, this is really a story in her head, and it is not necessarily true. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should. Often someone can do the task even better than we can if we just let them. It is about letting each of us work in our brilliance.

Related to that is the fact that Claire really looked at herself like many small business entrepreneurs do, as the technician. If you are familiar with Michael Gerber’s Emyth Mastery, you understand his terms technician, manager and entrepreneur. When you started our businesses, you did everything: design, pattern stuffing, picture framing, marketing, website development, sales, content creation, order fulfillment, and on and on. That was fine in the beginning, only you are trying to grow a business. That requires that you learn how to spend less of your time as the technician, and to do that you need to build a team and delegate.

I think Claire, like many of us, started with a misunderstanding of what delegation is. Delegation is not tossing off the work to someone else without guidelines, a system of checks and balances, and follow-up. That would be abdicating and leaders do not do that.

Prepare to delegate

Your first step is to create a list of routine activities that you are doing as a technician that do not use your brilliance. A few examples could be formatting your weekly newsletter, bookkeeping, editing your videos, or framing your work.

Next, take the time to document the system for one of those. Once you are done with the first one, move onto the second.

Before you delegate

Once you have your task to delegate, it’s important to keep a few things in mind so delegating becomes part of your comfort zone.

1. What is the authority you are giving someone? Remember you are not abdicating all the work and decision making. You are giving a specific amount of authority to someone to do a task. For example, if you own a shop, your manager may have the authority to make decisions that the employees will not. You have to specify what the authority is.

2. What are you delegating from an autonomy standpoint, i.e., what can someone do without oversight or what is the degree of oversight. Andrew Grove, the former chairman of Intel, used the term “task-relevant maturity” when describing how he considered delegation. The person you delegate tasks to should have proven through prior work that they have experience completing that kind of task. It’s not an all or nothing proposition.

3. Do not confuse responsibility and accountability. Responsibility defines the tasks that are part of someones job. Accountability describes the positive or negative consequences for the results of that work. A few examples: A salesperson’s responsibility is selling your product, making a certain number of sales calls, etc. His accountability would be how much he gets paid and whether he gets to keep job based on the amount he sells relative to the sales goal. Your bookkeeper’s responsibility would be keeping the books. Her accountability includes the raise she receives as a result of her accuracy.

4. Consider who you can delegate to and what their brilliance is. If you delegate responsibility to someone who is only adequate at the task, you’ll both be unhappy with the results.


If you have identified your tasks to delegate, created the appropriate systems, found the right team member, the next step is to clearly set parameters with that team member. What is the authority, autonomy, responsibility and accountability associated with the task? What are the conditions of your satisfaction with the task completion? Be sure you discuss this with your team member and answer any of her questions.

If you do not set parameters and follow-through on your end, you are likely abdicating not delegating. Your business is not going to grow as it should.

Last, here is a good quote on delegating from John Maxwell:


“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”


It’s your turn!

Do you find it easy to delegate? What has allowed you to do this?



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