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Bridget said she was stressed. She managed one of my teams, and was feeling overworked. She had meetings all day, and that only left the time before or after her workday to complete her work.

I offered to help.

"How about you let your senior engineer lead the design review meeting?"

"No, they're already busy with their own work, so I need to carry some of the load."

"Then perhaps the project review meeting, you could send your project manager."

"No, they're not experience enough yet. I need to help them out still."

"What about that bug triage meeting? Surely the engineers could do it without you."

"They like having me set the priorities on the tasks, so it's better if I attend."

This was a clear delegation issue. Bridget, like so many other experienced employees, had a hard time letting go of tasks. She felt the need to help others with their work load, she thought her team members weren't experienced enough to lead on their own, and sometimes her team was delegating work back to her.

Delegation is not just for managers. It's the ability to entrust others with responsibilities. This is a critical skill for all leaders.

On a side note — Sometimes I write examples, and I have past employees write to me and say, “Oh gosh, was that me?!” In this case, I've had this discussion frequently. I think most senior employees fail to delegate properly. It takes new and uncomfortable muscles to hand away work that we know we can complete better than our team members.

It's hard to understand that a large part of your job as a leader is to encourage others to take more ownership and have more autonomy. 80% quality with 100% autonomy is usually much better than 100% quality with your fingers in their business.

When we refer to delegating a task, we mean entrusting a task to another person. It's less about assigning, and more about agreeing that the ownership lies with the other person. Learning to delegate can be intimidating to new leaders, who aren't sure when and how they should be assigning work to others. This is about trusting others to have autonomy. It's empowering.

Why you need to delegate.

There are two major reasons why you need to delegate.

Your time is more valuable

If you're more senior, if you have more experience, if you know more than other people on the team, then your time is more valuable. If you're the VP of the company, you shouldn't spellcheck someone's document. There is surely someone capable of checking the spelling on that document who is paid significantly less for their time.

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