Learning to Delegate

One of the most useful things I’ve learned on my entrepreneurial journey is the importance to delegate.

Leadership is hard, because taking responsibility for other people’s work is hard. It’s not a small jump to being responsible for things you haven’t done yourself.

It’s not for procrastinators either. Learning to delegate is like learning to play tennis: you can’t learn it only from books. The only way to play better tennis is to go out to an actual court and start hitting the ball.

And the first experience with delegating anything meaningful will almost certainly cause pain. There are a zillion ways where things can go wrong. You think you carefully explained everything, until it turns out that it’s lost in translation.

That’s not a reason to give up trying.

What should I delegate?

If you think there’s nobody who can do your job as well as you do, you’re probably right. But, as a general rule, you should seek to delegate everything you possibly can.

Put simply, there are far too many things to do in a growing company. Delegation will allow you to outsource tasks that don’t require your immediate attention. It gives you a chance to focus on matters which do need a more senior staff member, or yourself. Of course you can do everything yourself on day one. But if you plan on being successful, then delegate you must.

By the way, if you’re in the service business and can’t find anyone who can do your job for your price: it’s time to raise prices. I made this mistake many times before, and hiring your own replacement is a great way to find out about it early on.

Start anywhere

Delegation is core to running a successful business. The only real question is, where would you start learning to delegate?

Start with a low risk task. For example, get someone to write specs for your app idea. Or find someone to pick up your phone. Or someone to do the research for your homework. Then write out in detail how people should help you.

How do I effectively delegate?

Effective delegation is surprisingly simple: provide good instructions to people. That’s all. The devil is in the details of course.

Especially when you’re working together someone new for the first time:

  • Communicate accordingly. You’re introducing someone to the subject for the first time, so talk them through key actions in a step-by-step manner. Give extremely thorough instructions, taking into account every single detail of the task. Add your own guidance on handling potential problems smoothly and effectively.
  • Micromanage the process. Schedule everything together with your hires, answer questions on time, and provide feedback all the way. Have a deadline and stick to it. Call or email them if they are late.

Always verify that your help clearly understood the instructions, and oversee as they start on the project. Once they’re on the right track, you will be free to focus your attention elsewhere.

Delegation gets easier with practice. With every successful project and every new hire, you’ll be better at it. Just start anywhere.

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Richard Dancsi

Founder & Techie

Startup founder and management consultant with over 15 years experience in building technology teams, products and companies.