When stepping into a leadership role, it’s important to understand the difference between being a doer and a leader.

As a leader, it can be hard to let go of the work you did as an employee. But, while it may seem noble to hold onto work while also taking on managerial tasks, this often does nothing but turn a new manager into a stressed-out employee with a leader’s title. 

A great indicator of whether a new manager has successfully learned how to switch from doing to leading is their ability to delegate.

The Consequences of a Doer’s Mindset

Before new leaders can put delegation into practice, they must first learn how to define their leadership mandate. Leaders, try asking yourselves, “How do I define my core leadership responsibilities?” If the answer sounds something like, “I’m the one in charge of getting the job done,” you may be stuck in doing mode.

Trying to take on too many responsibilities as a leader may not only be detrimental to your own work and well-being but can also put a strain on your entire team. Managers that insert themselves into every aspect of a project, for example, can leave team members feeling undervalued or distrusted which, in turn, can lead to lower engagement by those employees. 

What does it take to be a good delegator?

What Is Effective Delegation?

According to Harvard Business Review, in order for a leader to maximize their impact via effective delegation, they have to embrace an unavoidable paradox: to be more essential and less involved. This requires them to do the following:

  • Guide the ideas of others instead of dictating their actions. Being an inspiring force for your employees not only gets results but also nurtures their long-term professional skills — the mark of a great leader! This mindset also prevents you from micro-managing, a habit that can prove detrimental to employee engagement.
  • Have a sought-after perspective but not be a required pass-through. In other words, always be ready to provide guidance and wisdom, but allow your employees to carry forward projects when they feel confident doing so. This demonstrates trust, a critical component of any team and one which improves engagement.

Delegation means extending one’s presence through the actions of others. Here are some steps leaders can take:

  • Help your reports understand the reason behind a task and why they are a key component of executing that task. Employees become more motivated when they have a purpose, and it is the manager’s job to make this purpose clear. When introducing a project, describe how completing this project will help the team achieve a goal — i.e. “I’m excited for us to put together this report because it will show our audience that we are a reliable resource.”
  • Balance your level of involvement based on your reports’ needs. In other words, ask them how you can best support them. Effective communication is more than telling — it’s asking questions and listening to the answers. No matter how intuitive you are as a leader, nothing compares to hearing from employees exactly what they need from you.
  • Be discerning with your time and involvement. The experts at HBR advise leaders to practice saying “yes,” “no,” and “yes, if.” When presented with the option to undertake a task, take a moment to assess what taking on that task will require. And don’t be afraid to say no as long as you can back up your reasoning.

Remember, letting go of work does not equal laziness. Rather, being selective with your involvement shows your team that you trust them and want to be available as a guide. 

Learning how to lead via delegation is a process that may require trial and error. As always, be patient with yourself and your team as you learn how to strike a healthy balance of involvement.


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