When NOT to Delegate

In our last delegation post, we focused on the "what" and "when" of delegation, as in what is appropriate for a leader to delegate and when. Below we detail when leaders should refrain from delegating.

As valuable as delegation can be, there are times where it’s simply not advisable. The following list presents when it’s better to not delegate but rather keep the project for yourself:

  1. The task has not been fully thought through – If you aren’t able to explain the task and its goals in concrete terms, then you have more work to do before handing it off to someone else to accomplish.

  2. The project must be done in a specific way – In some situations, such as an intricate project that you developed and possess intimate knowledge of, delegation may create more problems than benefits.

  3. It takes more time for explain what to do than to just do it yourself – This assumes that this is a one-off project that just needs to be done and taken off the list. A recurring project or one that will provide opportunity for meaningful subordinate development should not be included in this list.

  4. When you really enjoy doing it – There’s nothing wrong with doing some things that can be taken over by others but still provide you with a positive burst of motivation or excitement, such as greeting students and parents in carpool. But learn to limit these so that you can ensure that you’re still doing the work that you really need to be doing.

  5. You are the best person for the job - If it's something you know well and can add real value to, do it yourself.

  6. You could learn from making the decision yourself – This one is tricky. On the one hand, the best learning comes from doing, so we shouldn’t shortchange our own development by letting others take our place. Of course, this could be true for most anything. Wise leaders learn to determine the true value-add of new learning and weigh it again other considerations.

But while leaders may choose to not delegate certain things, there are other items that they can never delegate even if they wanted to:

  1. Ultimate responsibility. The boss should retain final say on important matters that affect company function and direction. At the end of the day, the buck must stop with the leader.

  2. Vision. Vision is the essence of leadership. Delegating their vision for workplace performance or culture is tantamount to delegating away their leadership.

  3. Leading transformational change. Any large-scale, transformational changes need to have the leader at the helm.

  4. Hiring decisions. Hiring talent is one of the most important things a leaders can do to be successful. S/he may not do the entire process themselves but should at the least join in on interviews and related tasks, as well as making the final decision of whether to hire.

  5. Onboarding. Leaders should take an active role in the onboarding and training process and clear their schedules as much as possible in order to make time for new employees. This build capacity and efficacy while also boosting engagement and morale.

  6. Praise and recognition. Leaders need to find ways to personally acknowledge the good work that their people do.

  7. Discipline and dismissal. When things aren’t working, it’s the leader that needs to be able to say so. Anything less is completely disrespectful to the employee.

  8. High-risk activities to untested talent. Developing others is critical, but when the risk associated with a task or project is high, it is unwise and unfair to entrust it to unproven personnel.

  9. Modeling behaviors that express values and build culture. The leader needs to set the tone. Others can help, but the direction is set and then reinforced at the very top.

  10. Developing direct reports. A leader’s own reports need to be developed by the leader directly. No one else can be tasked to that responsibility, as they ultimately have to answer to the boss.

  11. Crisis management. As noted above, crisis situations demand leaders’ full attention and focus. They can get help, but responsibility lies entirely with the leader.

  12. Public Relations. When it comes to public relations duties, it is advisable to not delegate at least the external components.