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Too Much To Do: Four Keys to Effective Delegating

By Paul Lemberg
Posted Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. General George S. Patton

Many people think they have too many important things to do, but thats not the real problem. The real problem is either 1) you are trying to do them all yourself, 2) you have no way for anyone else to do them, or 3) all of them simply aren't that important.

One solution is to shrink the things you classify as important, and that avenue should certainly be your first step. But for most people, the leftovers still leave too much to do. I myself am in that category, as is almost everyone I know. You probably are too - especially if you are talking about doing it all yourself...

Enter delegation.

Successful delegation is one of the critical success factors for anyone who wants to be an effective entrepreneur or leader. My definition of leadership is, getting things done through the medium of other people. If you want to do big things you have to extend your reach beyond your ability to do everything at once. So you must lead and you must delegate. It's axiomatic.

And the harder you try to hold on to things, the faster they will get away from you. And the more important your project, the faster it will spin out of control. Especially for us control freaks, lack of good delegating skills can be a real show stopper.

In my business coaching practice, and in Quantum Growth Coaching - our franchise for business coaches - we find that delegation is difficult, even frightening, for many people.


First of all, you may enjoy doing the thing you have to delegate, and it's hard to give up something you genuinely like...

You may think you do it better than anyone else. You imagine it won't get done as well as if you did it. How could it, if you're the best...

You are certain it won't get done your way...

You may even believe if you don't do that thing, you won't have enough to do. This last is totally laughable, since we began this article with you having too much to do. And yet, in your gut, part of you feels this way...

Know this: whatever things you should give away and don't will get shorter shrift and less attention than they deserve. And if they are important at all, these things will become bottlenecks blocking the continued growth and success of your business - if they aren't doing so already.

So here they are - the four keys to successful and effective delegation.

1. Give the job to someone who can get it done. That means they have two things: Either they can get the skills, knowledge and resources needed or they have a systemized process for doing it, and, they have the time for it. Don't dump your projects onto someone who has neither the wherewithal nor the availability. If you do that you are simply setting them up to fail and setting yourself up for disappointment.

You know that old adage, if you want something done, give it to a busy person? That may be true from the standpoint of giving your project to someone who is 'can-do.' But if you give your project or problem to someone just like you - someone who is already too busy - what are the chances? Don't just hand things over to the next warm body. Get buy-in from the delegate. Are they okay with this thing? Do they have the time? The resources? The energy? Are they enrolled, or is this just more work for someone who is already overburdened?

2. Communicate your 'conditions of satisfaction.' Have a clear picture of what success looks like. Did you ever ask someone to do something which came back quite different than you thought it would? Be sure you have mutual agreement on the critical requirements. How do you want it to look? What are the parameters? Are there any special processes that need to be engaged? Particular people you want engaged? What format must it take? And - often most importantly - by when?

Use SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, time-based) goals to clarify the desired outcome along with a timeline for the thing's accomplishment. Also, if necessary, set up a measurement system that will help you and your delegate know whether things are on or off track. You can abbreviate this step if the task is simple, but make sure to have your bases covered.

3. Work out a plan. How will it get done? This does not mean you should micro-manage, that's the very opposite of what you need. But one key to successful delegating is knowing the thing can get done and will get done. Depending on the degree of difficulty, you may ask that the first step of the plan is to work out the plan. In other cases, your request may be simple and a plan not necessary. But think this through-decide whether a plan is needed, and make sure there is one.

4. Establish a feedback loop.

How are you going to get updates and give feedback or advice? When are you going to speak or meet? How frequently? Will they send you an email, or a formal progress report? Create some pre-defined mechanism that will keep you informed, and to give them an opportunity to seek guidance if appropriate.

Delegating is not abdicating

There is a big difference between these two. When you abdicate you are saying - I'm neither responsible nor accountable for the results. When you delegate, you are still accountable for the results. You are asking someone else to do the work, but it's ultimately your work. To paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck still stops with you. Lack of easy-to-communicate, easy-to-duplicate systems is another reason people have trouble having too much to do, but that is entire subject in itself, and I'll address it at another time.


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About the Author
Paul Lemberg is the President of Quantum Growth Coaching, the world's only business coaching franchise system built from the ground up to rapidly create more profits and more life for entrepreneurs. Paul is also runs a business coaching and strategic planning company specializing in helping entrepreneurial companies quickly increase short term profits for sustainable long term growth. Of course, he is available for keynote speeches and workshops and can be reached via (


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