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  • Writer's pictureMegan Robinson

Assumptions in Delegation

Imagine juggling multiple responsibilities at work while your to-do list keeps growing. You're swamped and stressed and feel you're sinking fast. Ideally, you'd delegate some of these tasks to ease your load. Yet, despite feeling burnt out, you find it exceedingly difficult to pass even a single task to a team member.

It's probably not hard to imagine that scenario -- it's one we've all found ourselves in at some point in our careers. Delegation is hard! You're far from alone in this struggle.

It's easy to get bogged down by concerns like, "What if they don't do it right?" or "I don't have time to explain everything."

You're likely overlooking the most significant challenge when it comes to delegation. One that, once you understand it's happening, can help you master the art of effective delegation.

You're making assumptions, and they are getting in the way.

You may think the other person understands your expectations, but you've never spelled them out. It's too easy to assume they'd approach the task like you, so it's easy to blame them for their failure when they do something "different," "strange," "wasteful," or "stupid." This is when delegation goes into a spiral of pain, frustration -- and eventually -- avoidance and reluctance.

Instead of focusing on how the task got done incorrectly, consider where you had different expectations. What could you be assuming that is causing your delegation to break down?

  • When it should be done

  • How long it should take

  • Where to find resources

  • What data to use

  • Who should be notified

  • What style of communication to use

  • Where or how to start

  • The processes to be used

  • What the end result should be

When your assumptions don't align, expectations will not be met, and it's far too tempting to blame the other person. Internally, you feel your trust has been broken, but the person you delegated to likely feels the same. Given the information they had to work with, they might think they were set up to fail, or you had unfair expectations.

Here's the fix: When delegating, make a conscious effort to meet your team where they are at. Given their experience, gauge their abilities, understand their background, and align your expectations accordingly. Don't assume what they know; instead, ask the questions necessary to figure it out.

If something is important, tell them.

If something is mandatory, tell them.

If something is different, tell them.

It's hard to thread the needle between micromanaging and being too open-ended. It's okay – sometimes even better – not to give explicit instructions, but you must take responsibility for that choice. You need to know how deep into the details you should go and take responsibility for your communication if you didn't go far enough.

Once, a couple was preparing for a big road trip. Their long to-do list before they left included packing and getting the house ready to stay empty for a couple of weeks. One spouse asked the other to fill up the gas tank. The spouse complied, but to the delegator's surprise, they filled up the car that was staying behind, not the road-trip vehicle. The immediate reaction was disbelief and criticism.

Was that fair?

No. It was a miscommunication, not idiocy. The person delegating assumed their spouse would know which car they were referring to, while the spouse assumed the car left at home needed more fuel to prevent freezing during their absence. And that's okay. Learning from these situations without holding them against the other person is the only way to improve your communication, delegation, and leadership.

If the delegators can't share or take responsibility, they're not as good at delegating as they think.

Should you delegate that?

With all the effort delegation requires, is it even worth it? In most cases, absolutely!

For each task, weigh the pros and cons. The pros almost always include the growth of your team. They gain experience and, over time, will improve at the task and perhaps become even better than you. You also benefit from different perspectives and increased diversity of thought. The bottom line is successful delegation increases your productivity!

However, successful delegation demands time and trust. It's inevitably more work initially than doing it yourself. Yet, if you never put in the effort, you'll miss out on the long-term benefits.

The best way to get better at delegation is to do it. Approach each opportunity with an open mind, free from assumptions, and with the curiosity to understand how to set your team up for success. If you're interested in learning more about honing this skill or arranging a delegation workshop, give me a call. Delegation is a popular topic for E Leader Experience clients and can instantly alleviate stress all over your workplace.


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