Is your inability to delegate holding you (and everyone else) back?


You know who you are. You can’t let go. You won’t let anyone else do the work because they never get it right. You’re buried in a pile of obligations, sweating every deadline and working into the wee hours while you wonder why your  no-good co-workers and ineffective staff can’t just step up.

Been there?

Maybe you’re the boss, maybe you’re the employee, and maybe it’s not be as bad as all that, but if you have any perfectionist tendencies (guilty as charged!) you may be having a hard time with the D word. Delegation. And, by extension, maybe your staff is, too.

Delegation opens so many opportunities for things to go well or awry. Delegation is not bossing them into doing it our way. Much of our success at work comes from completing projects in a way that is valued by others. Considering delegation in this light provides some interesting insights.

Does the person you’re handing off to know what you value?

Unless you’re working with someone you have a long established relationship with and you’ve undergone some sort of mind-meld, it’s likely that you need to spend some time explaining the task, the expectations, and how you’ll communicate along the way.

For instance: “I have a project I’d like to assign to you. It’s going to have a tight deadline and some high expectations. Can we find some time today to make sure we have a shared understanding of the milestones and how I will know you’re making progress?”


To: Employee.

From: Uncommunicative supervisor

Date: Tuesday at 6:30 PM


Hey! I really need to you to get the report pulled together for finance by friday. Ok?”


Perfection is the enemy of the good

We’ve all heard this one. And it’s true. It’s so much easier to just do it yourself instead of taking the time to show someone else how to do it, answer questions, and potentially see them fail.

But how much worse is it to stifle your staff because you won’t let them learn?  Remember when you had a supervisor who wouldn’t let you take on the projects you were eager to do?  Don’t be that supervisor.

Employees? This goes both ways. If it’s your first assignment, you want to get it right and you will have questions (you should  have questions!) Don’t hang onto that work until it’s perfect. Missing a deadline because you’re trying to polish something to perfection is not a good choice. How do you approach your boss?


“I know this project is important to you and I didn’t want to work too long in one direction without being sure we were still aligned. Can we check in for 5 minutes?”

And when you have that check in? Be prepared. Have focused questions then listen carefully for new information.

Remember, you’re both working at this together, if you supervisor forgot to tell you something the first time around, don’t roll your eyes and say “I can’t do this work if the direction is going to totally change every time I ask you a question!” (You get my point). They need to know you’re going to be able to work with some independence but you’ll come back to them along the way. The need for check-ins may diminish as you work together more, but even with people I’ve spent a long time working with, the check-in is essential. Things change, schedules shift, priorities rearrange – you will rarely have a complicated project that is assigned and completed exactly the way it was initially described and those are the ones worth learning.

How’re things looking from another point of view?

If you have an employee who has been offered help only to brush it aside…no, no, I got it….and they’re weary, ring-eyed, and intent on doing it themselves, you may be working with a delegation-challenged-perfectionist.

Perhaps an honest conversation about how their reluctance to delegate is impacting others will help them see their situation differently. Appeal to their better self, the one that wants to motivate and encourage others. Acknowledge that they’re drowning in deadlines and assignments and that’s not a sign of success. Ask them to help someone else grow to their level of skills.

Then listen closely. They may be able to point out areas for improvement. Together you might identify people who can help find success.

I have a mentor who regularly asked “who’s your support team?” when I talked about new projects or initiatives. It’s a life-saver of a question, worth internalizing and sharing.

Are you the perfectionist or do you work for one?

How have you met this challenge?