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How to delegate. Management superpower.

There are a few different types of delegation, and we should clear up which we're talking about before we talk about how to do them.

The most powerful form of delegation is to abdicate authority over the work that is being passed on. In this case, you are not only handing over the work, but the full responsibility as well. By handing over the responsibilities, you are also handing over the credit if it succeeds and the blame if it fails.

The second most powerful form of delegation is to create more of a mentoring relationship as part of delegating. You may still want to be consulted, or you may be pulled into the work if needed. For this kind of delegation, you get to share the credit or blame.

How do you know when it's time to delegate:

  • As a director, you're contributing to project work a lot. This means you're working on things that someone else can work on.
  • If something is important, but not urgent, it's an opportunity for another teammate to level up.
  • If something is urgent, but not very important to you, look to delegate. Your time is best spent delegating the work effectively, even if this takes a bit longer than doing the work itself.

Delegation needs a mind-shift from "only I can do it" to "it just needs to get done". It's not as much about you and how you feel about the work to be done. It's about empowering your teammate--it's asking your teammate to step up. While the first time or two of doing this sort of work might not go as well as you'd expect, the subsequent times will.

Assigning work to someone isn't always delegation--sometimes it's just assigning. If you are personally responsible for the outcomes, and you ask someone else to do it, that is delegation.

When considering the first type of delegation (true delegation), you also have to delegate power or authority as well. Your teammate is doing work "as you", not "for you". Effective delegation is mutually beneficial. If your teammate doesn't enjoy the work, or it won't help them level up, the work might not be right to delegate. Delegation done well can create trust.

When you delegate, make sure you're clear about who's responsible for the consequences. There will probably be failures. Failure is a great teacher, so embrace this. How many of your biggest lessons came after a failure? This is an opportunity you are giving someone, a chance to learn a lot. Holding back because they may fail is depriving them of the opportunity to learn.

Okay, now on to the nuts and bolts.

Once you've selected the project you are going to delegate, what do you need to do to properly delegate it. The template from Lara Hogan is very simple and a perfect 3 step process.

(1) Describe the project goal. Keep this short. One sentence is enough. Articulating the goal (without spelling out the "how") will help your teammate develop their leadership skills, connect their own dots, and come up with a solution that you may never have thought of yourself.

(2) Pro tips. Not more than 3. Here are some prompts to create your pro tips:

  • What big lesson have you learned from doing this type of project in the past?
  • What interested parties, or people with helpful info, should your teammate be sure to talk to?
  • What are the big, but unobvious, pitfalls to avoid?

(3) Clarity and support for your teammate. finish these sentences:

  • I will support you by… Get tremendously clear on 2-5 actions you'll take to support this teammate.
  • You should reach out to me when… What should your teammate do when they are blocked or if they want some feedback. Get specific here.
  • This will be a success when…This should be an objective metric with a specific timeframe.

For the second type of delegation (mentoring), you will likely be more involved. If you've got some time, there are things you can do to make the work that you've delegated go smoothly. If you feel like you could delegate something, but you are not sure where to start, consider that delegation is two things together:

  1. Documenting what needs to be done, and, to a certain extent, how.
  2. Managing the relationship with the assignee.

If you tackle the first part of this, you are sort of delegating things to yourself. To do this, write down instructions for your steps and pretend you completely forgot how to do them. These instructions are often called SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). You can write them down, or, even more easily, record the process with a video or shared document.

Having a SOP recorded makes delegation 10x easier. You can use the SOPs as a starting point to discuss the task at hand, collect suggestions, and eventually let the new assignee come up with their own process. You should not simply assign them--this is too prescriptive.

What do you delegate?

The most important question is "should I delegate this?" Sure, once you've made the decision the above can help make sure the assignee can run with it. Fortunately, Shreyas Doshi has a concise and elegant framework for making this decision. Shared on Twitter, there are two simple questions to answer:

  • If you do this yourself, how high-leverage is it?
  • Who could do this work?

Delegation Framework

Good Reads

Lara Hogan - Delegation is an art, not a science


  • Working through this template/worksheet will ensure you've done all the right things as you delegate a project/task
  • Instead of delegating the "how" of the project, give some "pro tips." This lets the other person figure out what they need to do for themselves, while avoiding problems and pitfalls.
  • Describe how you will support the other person, and what success will look like.

Jacob Kaplan-Moss - Delegation series

6 Articles. Overall, this series is more thorough than the Lara Hogan article. In particular, it helps with deciding when to delegate. However, the template by Lara Hogan is brilliantly simple.