The hardest behavior to change is that of the classic over-doer, over-owner, or work hogNone of us want to be accused of hogging anything, but leaders who do not convey ownership and responsibility to others in their organization are doing just that.

Most of us work hogs have good reasons for not delegating. Before we get to those reasons, let’s first explore why delegating is so imperative, despite our good reasons for not doing so.

We need to delegate so that:

  • Our team members can be challenged and grow in their abilities when they are pushed to take on new tasks. Our best and brightest need to be challenged or they won’t stay with us;
  • Our clients can have multiple points of contact and can rely on several team members for support;
  • We can focus on other important tasks, undertaking work that is truly the highest and the best use of our talents and abilities; and
  • We develop our organization to sustain itself without us. Succession is not possible unless those around us have had time and true practice at doing the things we do.

With these benefits of delegating, we can see why we must overcome our reasons for not doing so. Some of the most common reasons and potential solutions are:

1. I don’t delegate because I’m disappointed in the quality of the work product I receive back.

If this sounds familiar, consider the following potential solutions:

    • Consider whether you could improve your communication about the expected deliverable. If you more clearly outline your expectations, provide additional relevant information (or point the person to where they could find it), or take more time to keep team members on the same page with you, it will likely result in an improved work product that more closely meets your needs.
    • Be certain that you are specific about the deliverable expected from the delegation. Be sure to specify the form that you want the work product to be in, as well as the degree of completion. Too often, our disappointment in the work product is because we didn’t specify what we expected on the front end.
    • If the quality of the work product is lacking due to an issue of team-member competency, consider walking them through the specifics of what could have been done differently or been improved. If there appears to be a lack of understanding, provide training on the subject at hand. If, after training and coaching, the person seems unable to produce the level of deliverable needed, evaluate if they are the right person for this role and, if not, find someone who is.

2. I don’t delegate because my team does not show the sense of urgency I need (and I may even have to take things back when they aren’t done fast enough).

If this is something you experience, then:

    • Establish a by-when or due date for each assignment at the point of delegation. You can specify by which date/time you need it or ask your team members when they can have it done, but don’t delegate another assignment without clarifying the specific due date. Due dates, with a month and day create a sense of urgency and soft phrases like, “as soon as possible,” “ASAP,” and “this week” do not.
    • Avoid taking assignments back except in the direst of circumstances. Doing so will train your people to push your work to the bottom as they know you will “rescue” the work and it also exhibits a lack of trust in your team members that can be demoralizing.
    • Right at the start of your delegation, establish a plan for when you and your delegatee will communicate about project status. Create some “checkpoints” along the way so you can feel confident that things are progressing at the right pace. And it will also allow you to have input to the final product, which supports you in the next “reason” that many don’t delegate.

3. I don’t delegate because my team members don’t approach things the way that I do, or they don’t do things the way that I would.

If this “do it my way” syndrome hits home with you, then:

    • Specify your intended outcomes but allow the new task owner to devise their own approach to achieve the result. There are often many paths to get to the same outcome, and it’s possible that you may learn some things if you allow creativity and collaboration to take place.
    • If “your way” is also the way mandated by law, standards, the client, or other important firm methodologies, teach it to your team members and specify which portions of the assignment have to be done in a specific manner (see #1 above) and which are open to their personal approach.

4. I don’t delegate because my team members aren’t ready, and I don’t want to invest the time to teach them.

This reason is short-sighted, because your team will never be ready if you don’t start teaching and stretching them now:

    • Break tasks down into smaller sub-tasks and assign only the smaller portions to team members who are not yet ready for the larger responsibility. With each sub-task they master, they will grow closer to taking over the bigger project, engagement, or client.
    • Invest in teaching, especially on repetitive projects and tasks that your people can eventually take over permanentlyIf a task is not the highest and best use of your talent and experience, it is your duty to yourself and the firm to find someone to whom you’ll teach it and then to whom permanently delegate it.

As Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, said, “Don't be a bottleneck … Force responsibility down and out … The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it.”

Don’t allow these reasons to get in the way of the result you desire for yourself, your people, and your firm. Give up over-doing and become a great delegator. When you do, your workload will be rebalanced, and your people will be enriched. Try it with just one assignment today!

Originally published on May 23, 2011  in the AICPA’s CPA Insider and updated as of this blog post.