Effective delegation: a 4-step framework by a professional coach

CoachingCompany Culture
Renhao Wong
Jul 15, 2022

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Written By

Renhao Wong
Renhao has been in communications for over a decade, spanning the light side of journalism and dark side of PR. Besides preaching the wonders of technology and importance of mental health, he maintains avid interests in gaming, photography, and music.


The art of effective delegation is one of the most crucial yet underrated skills in the office. While many have earned their promotions by being excellent do-ers, these skills don’t automatically translate to thinking and leading – the primary skills required of managers. Entrepreneurs and startup founders, who begin their ventures by themselves or with extremely lean teams, often suffer when they are too invested in every single task and process that occurs.

The effects of this gap in management hit all levels of an organization, says Suprita Sinha, certified professional coach and consultant. Leaders are constantly stressed and overwhelmed from too much work, while team members who believe that their contributions aren’t up to standard feel unmotivated and demoralized.

Why managers can’t let go

effective delegation

According to Suprita, managers hold back from delegating work when they feel:

  • That they will lose control over the task.
  • Insecure over how well the task is done.
  • The desire to own the limelight for themselves.
  • That they have insufficient time to mentor a subordinate to do the job well
  • Fearful of being criticized if the task is not done up to par

In his quintessential book High Output Management, Andrew Grove likens this problem to a manager who hands their subordinate a pencil but refuses to let it go. At the same time, they question why their subordinate is not taking over. This analogy makes the key problem crystal clear: when managers are unable to trust their team members to do the job right, they will have trouble delegating work. 

Why then, do managers so often have problems with trust?

Myths and truths

Suprita shares a few common myths that managers believe:

  • The team is already too busy – I don’t want to push them further so I’ll just do this myself.
  • My team can’t do the job as well as I can – passing this to them will take a longer time, so I might as well get it done myself.
  • I’m putting my job at risk – If my team does these tasks well, my role will be seen as irrelevant and redundant.

“The truth to these myths is that they are all assumptions of our mind,” explains Suprita. “As humans, we generally hold on to our beliefs, and those beliefs become our truths.” 

Limiting beliefs are often a side effect of how we were brought up. As a manager, if you find any of the above familiar, Suprita recommends reflecting on them. Are they objectively true, or erroneous beliefs that have taken hold? Inc.com and Mark Manson have excellent articles on recognizing and overcoming limiting beliefs.

Mistakes when delegating (earnestly)

Even amongst managers who have fewer qualms about delegating work, Suprita notes two common mistakes.

First, when a manager doesn’t fully understand what to delegate to who in their team. By failing to leverage natural strengths and acknowledge weaknesses across team members, they end up creating inefficiency in the team’s output.

To mitigate this, managers can make a concerted effort to understand what every individual has to offer, ensure team members agree on the skill-task matching, and set dates to review progress. Maintaining a safe space encourages them to speak up about disagreements or challenges without fear of embarrassment or repercussion.

Secondly, when a manager doesn’t understand the difference between urgent and important tasks, they tend to dole out work inefficiently. The “What” Delegation Matrix below simplifies the process and acts as an acid test for managers to determine what they should take on and let go of. 

A 4-step framework for effective delegation

How can managers practise effective delegation? Suprita outlines four simple steps to streamline your process for subordinates.

1. Clearly define the task

“Setting expectations is key to effectively delegating a task to an employee,” emphasizes Suprita. Being clear helps your subordinate to understand what they need to do while leaving them to decide how to best do it. This greatly reduces micromanagement, which is frustrating and time-consuming for both parties.

For example, if a director asks you for a report on last week’s sales numbers, let your subordinate know what specific metrics to include, points to highlight in the analyses, and why they are important. This is far better than saying, “just include the usual important metrics.”. The latter is vague and leaves plenty of room for assumption, resulting in unsatisfactory work and delays in submission. 

2. Provide training

For new or unfamiliar tasks, effective delegation entails equipping team members with knowledge and resources to do them well. This may take up a significant amount of time at first, but proper training ensures that the job is done as efficiently and correctly as possible. It also sets your subordinate up to work more autonomously with minimal supervision on your part. 

As a subordinate, would you prefer a manager who points you in the right direction or one who leaves you to figure things out on your own, only to spend more time going back and forth with mistakes later? While the latter can be useful when training team members to work independently, the former is usually more beneficial to one’s professional growth.

3. Define the level of authority

On top of defining parameters for the task at hand, briefing your subordinates on the amount of freedom they have also helped. Are you happy to leave certain parts of a task to their own methods? What should they consult you for and when should situations be escalated?

Hand responsibility to your subordinate by determining what you want them to learn from the experience. Get them to pull the required information together and propose what they think is the best way to move forward with a task. This way, you can maintain decision-making authority while empowering them to solve problems on their own.

4. Relinquish control 

At the start, they may come to you with questions or a final round of approval before submitting work upward or externally. As you become more confident in their standard of output, you might give them more control over the task. Here you will be kept informed through regular updates, but are no longer actively directing micro decisions related to the task.

Once you are sure that the subordinate is perfectly capable of working independently, you may relinquish control of the task entirely and trust them to raise questions or concerns where necessary.

Effective delegation goes a long way

The above process helps both you and your subordinate to stay aligned to the goals of a task while allowing team members to work more autonomously. Effective delegation frees up your time to strategically take up more crucial tasks, continue to improve efficiency, or think about longer-term planning for their department and organization.

About Author

Renhao Wong
Renhao has been in communications for over a decade, spanning the light side of journalism and dark side of PR. Besides preaching the wonders of technology and importance of mental health, he maintains avid interests in gaming, photography, and music.

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