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Leadership, Productivity

What Is Delegation: 4 Types of Delegation

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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Delegation of tasks may make people feel uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed because they fear losing control or that the quality of their work will suffer if it is done by someone else. Delegating tasks to others may also be perceived as an admission of weakness or incompetence as some may be concerned that others will judge them for not being able to handle everything themselves.

However, being able to delegate can significantly increase your productivity by leveraging your time and knowledge. To overcome all of the negative feelings and barriers, all you need to do is work on developing delegation skills.

What is Delegation?

Delegation is defined as “the act of empowering another to act for oneself.”[1]

“Delegation is the art of extracting work from others and getting it done by them as if you were doing it yourself.” – Andrew Carnegie

In management, delegation is handing off tasks to your team. It’s giving the work you might have done yourself when the team was just a handful of people, or when the load was lighter. But as your team grows and the stakes rise, smart managers pass certain tasks to their team members. This isn’t dodging duty; it’s making space to zoom in on true management work—like coaching your team and reviewing their performance.

When delegating, a person in a leadership or managerial position often transfers decision-making power to others in the organization while remaining accountable for the task’s outcome, in addition to some of their workload.

Most people think that delegation and allocation are synonymous, but there is an important distinction to be made between the two:

When you allocate a task, you are merely instructing a subordinate to carry out a specific action. You tell them what to do, and they do it—it’s that simple.


On the other hand, delegation involves transferring some of your own work to another person. They do not just receive a set of instructions. The important part is that they are placed in a role that requires that they make decisions and are held accountable for completing the task.

Delegation also refers to leveraging other people’s time to increase your quality time. By delegating tasks, you can focus on higher-level responsibilities, such as strategic planning, while team members work on tasks that require additional expertise and experience. This allows you to focus your time and energy on tasks that are more important and have a greater impact on the organization.

I go into greater detail about how delegating major tasks to others allows you to complete tasks more quickly and free up your time in my article The Power of Leverage in Leading the Life You Want.

4 Types of Delegation

Although most delegation involves a person in a position of leadership or management assigning tasks to their subordinates, there are other types of delegation that do not always involve leaders or managers. Here are 4 different types of delegation:

1. General or Specific Delegation

This type of delegation is determined by the task at hand.

Giving a broad set of responsibilities to a person or team without specific instructions on how to complete the task is referred to as general delegation.

In contrast, specific delegation entails assigning a specific task with specific requirements and expectations.

When a person or team has a high degree of autonomy or when the task requires creative problem-solving, general delegation is used. When a task is highly structured or requires a specific skill set, specific delegation is used.


2. Formal or Informal Delegation

The process of giving authority is at the heart of this type of delegation.

Formal delegation is a structured process of assigning tasks and responsibilities, with well-defined roles and expectations. Typically, this type of delegation is used in large organizations or government agencies.

Informal delegation, on the other hand, entails delegating tasks or responsibilities to others in an unstructured manner, usually without a clear process or formal agreement. This type of delegation is often used in smaller organizations or teams where trust and collaboration are high.

3. Top to Bottom or Bottom to Top Delegation

This type of delegation is based on an organization’s hierarchy.

Delegation from top to bottom occurs when a person in a higher position assigns tasks or responsibilities to someone in a lower position. This type of delegation is commonly used in hierarchical organizations, such as corporations or government agencies.

Bottom-to-top delegation involves assigning tasks or responsibilities to someone in a higher position, often in order for a lower-level employee to provide feedback or ideas. Delegation of this type is commonly used in organizations with a more collaborative or flat structure, such as startups or small businesses.

4. Lateral Delegation

This type of delegation requires the collaboration of a group or team. It involves delegating tasks or responsibilities to people on the same organizational level, often with a common goal or objective.

This type of delegation is often used in cross-functional teams, which bring together people from various departments or areas of expertise to complete a project or task.


Lateral delegation can help to foster collaboration, creativity, and innovation. It can, however, be difficult to manage because it requires a high level of communication and coordination among team members.

When deciding which of the four types of delegation to use, consider your goals, the complexity of a task, the level of formality in the organization structure, and team members’ skills and expertise.

If you want to learn more about the different delegation models, read What is the Delegation Model and How to Use it?

How to Delegate Effectively

There appear to be numerous barriers to delegating, but the good news is that by arming yourself with delegation skills, you can overcome all of these challenges and delegate effectively.

To delegate effectively, you must select the right task to delegate to the appropriate person, establish clear expectations, provide resources, support, and feedback, and track progress throughout.


LifeHack is a fully distributed team, with members working remotely from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and various European countries. It can be challenging to coordinate and manage tasks in a remote team, especially if team members are spread across different time zones or have varying work schedules. However, by delegating tasks effectively, I can ensure that everyone is on track with their tasks and projects.

Read my article to find out how I delegate tasks to ensure personal and team productivity: How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-by-Step Guide)

Bottom Line

Delegation is essential for boosting an organization’s efficiency and productivity. It allows leaders to focus on higher-level tasks, improve the skills of their team members, foster trust and communication, increase flexibility, and promote a more collaborative work environment.

While there may be several barriers to delegation, it’s important to remember that effective delegation requires clear objectives, communication, trust, and support.

Delegation is becoming increasingly important in ensuring the smooth operation of teams as workplaces become more diverse and distributed. As a result, if you’re a leader who wants to unleash the full potential of your teams and achieve greater success in your organization, you must begin delegating and develop the necessary skills.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

What Is Delegation: 4 Types of Delegation

Delegation is is the process of delegating tasks, responsibilities, and authority to another individual or group of individuals.

Delegation also refers to leveraging other people’s time to increase your quality time.

There are 4 types of delegation: General or Specific Delegation, Formal or Informal Delegation, Top to Bottom or Bottom to Top Delegation, Lateral Delegation


[1]Merriam Webster: Delegation
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