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Follow These Five Steps to Delegate Like a Champ

To put these suggestions to work, take these five steps every time you delegate, regardless of the direction you delegate (up, down, or sideways), and regardless of the situation (work-related or in the context of your private life).

Step 1: Identify your level of trust in the potential delegate.

Think about how much you trust this person. If you don't know him or her, try to start out by assigning something that's only moderately important. Depending on how well the person performs that task, raise or lower your level of trust.

Step 2: Explain why you need the task to be done.

Even if you have the lowest level of trust in this person, and are going to tell him or her exactly what to do, you should explain the reason for your request. This step will help the other person to internalize the need. When delegates internalize the need, they feel that they played a part in choosing the task.

Step 3: Give the person as much of a sense of choice as possible.

At the highest levels of trust, this step is easy. But even at lower trust levels, where you need to make decisions for the other person, you can still find ways of asking for performance without coercion. Remember that even when you are delegating upward you may seem to be coercing—for example, by implying that you'll like someone better who does something for you—so even when you're delegating to your boss, make sure you aren't being coercive.

Step 4: Based on your level of trust, follow up at planned intervals.

Even at the highest level of trust, check in occasionally just to make sure that the two of you understand each other. Again, don't just "pop in" based on your emotions at the time. Plan check-in times and follow through on your plan.

Step 5: Seal the relationship.

Chances are, you'll need to delegate to that person in the future. If he or she did a good job, finished on time, and met or exceeded your expectations, raise your level of trust. If the opposite occurs, lower your level of trust. In either case, let your delegate know how you felt about his or her performance.

Turning the Tables

Whether you delegate to your boss at work, your best friend in a social situation, or your kids at home, if you follow these five steps you're sure to get better results. What about situations where you are the delegate? Check out my next article, which addresses exactly that topic.


Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, "Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey," American Psychologist, September 2002 (Vol. 57, No. 9), pp. 705–717.

Edward L. Deci with Richard Flaste, Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation. Penguin Books, 1996.

Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D., Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. Wiley, 2010.

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