At the start of a short-term internship project in 1999, the manager handed over a thick report and said, “Read this, then let’s talk about how you will fix it.”

That moment, I later realised, was a tipping point for me as an employee, project manager, and future leader; and how empowering the skill of delegating can be for manager and employee both, when it’s done well. The manager set me up for success in the project, not an easy project by any means, but she knew what she was doing even if I hadn’t yet. She stated that she trusted me, that she wasn’t going to micromanage or hover so if I had questions by all means ask but it was me who had the authority to achieve the desired outcome. She stepped in when I asked and she facilitated, rather than directed. When I needed her level of authority, which was really only a signature here or a nod there, I wasn’t kept waiting. We scheduled milestones and meetings so that she could be kept up to date and provide whatever support I needed.

That experience has stayed with me ever since. I was trusted and supported; I was empowered and given the right level of authority and responsibility that matched the project to my abilities. My confidence grew alongside my skills and I am convinced that was a significant contributor to securing a full-time position with the organisation.

But as the Zen wisdom from Lao Tzu states, “To know and not do is to not yet know” would sum up my first experience of leading in a workplace. In hindsight, the excitement of being in a new role, blended in with wanting to be helpful, meant I inadvertently stepped on toes and was performing tasks that really should have been done by other employees. Once I was made aware of what I was doing, it sunk in that I was not being effective in my role and making others roles a challenge. Having an open, respectful and trusting relationship meant this could be rectified quickly and easily.

Now I’ve got it!

I don’t keep a dog and bark myself. 

Elizabeth I

Over the years, working with thousands of managers and leaders across the world, their experiences of, skills in, and perceptions held about delegating vary widely. However what does not vary is their desire to do well. Watching a manager transform from being resistant to delegating, to learning and embracing the key steps, and then applying them with success is an honour and I do love it when I hear, “Why haven’t I been delegating sooner?”

Five of the major lessons I have learned from my own experiences and from working with so managers helping them to delegate more effectively include:


  1. Work out what truly stops you from delegating – once you know what that is you are half way there to making delegating easier.
  2. The trick to delegating so that it doesn’t backfire leaving you with the mess to clean up and blame to wear is to understand that slow is fast. Invest in the planning at the start so you have a much faster and more successful execution and result/s.
  3. Don’t disappear: delegating is not the same as abdicating. You simply cannot dump and run and expect the whole process to go perfectly.
  4. If you are worried about performance, standards, timing, success then you should focus on relationships and trust before delegating.
  5. You cannot delegate everything. The work that is expected to be done at your level of authority and your designated decision making cannot be passed down the line

In my book, DELEGATE – Double the Results! Halve the Effort! all these lessons and a lot more are covered to show you how delegating can be a cost-effective function to discharge work, break big projects down and drive performance. It’s all about doubling the results and halving the effort.


Delegation is NOT a dirty word!

Sally Foley-Lewis

QE I Image source: