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Leadership, Productivity

The Fear of Delegating Work To Others

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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Do you ever catch yourself holding back from handing over a task, even when you’re swamped with work? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. It’s a human tendency to grip the reins of control tightly.

Many managers feel a twinge of unease when thinking about delegating tasks or decisions, even when it’s clear they’d benefit from it. Ironically, in large organizations, the opposite can also be true. Decisions bounce around like a hot potato, passed from one person to another, making productivity a challenge.

A telling survey from SHL,[1] a US psychometric testing company, revealed that managers spend roughly 14% of their time rectifying tasks or fixing employees’ blunders. The numbers climb even higher in places with strong hierarchical dynamics, reaching 24% in Hong Kong and 20% in India.

But is the fear of mistakes the sole deterrent stopping leaders from delegation? Let’s unpack this complex reluctance together.

Why Do We Hesitate to Delegate?

Short on Time

When you’re swamped, taking on all the tasks yourself can feel like the quick fix. Delegating? That might seem like it just adds weight to your load. It takes time to explain the task, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be done right, or so the thinking goes. So, you roll up your sleeves and tackle it yourself, believing that you’re taking the express lane to completion.

But while handing off a task may seem like a slow start, it’s often the ticket to freeing up your future time. Think of it as an investment – a bit more time today to save a whole lot more tomorrow.

Take, for example, preparing a monthly report. It might take you two hours every month. Now imagine spending an extra hour this month training a team member to do it. That’s three hours this month, sure. But next month, your involvement drops to zero. You’ve spent one extra hour, but you save two hours every month going forward. That’s a net gain starting as soon as next month, and the savings just keep growing.


This is delegation as a forward-thinking move, an up-front cost that pays dividends in the long run. It’s not a burden; it’s a strategy for reclaiming your time.


Perfectionists often feel like the guardians of quality. In their minds, it’s up to them, and only them, to get things just right. Delegating? That sounds like asking for a downgrade, because who else could possibly meet their sky-high standards?

These exacting individuals might worry that a less-than-perfect outcome doesn’t just reflect on the work—it reflects on them. They fear the smudge on their reputation far more than the extra workload. So, they hold their tasks close, fearing that letting go is the same as letting standards slip.

But here’s where it gets ironic: this pursuit of flawless work, carried alone, becomes a surefire recipe for burnout and stress. Instead of ensuring perfection, taking on too much becomes a barrier to finishing tasks on time and keeping sanity intact. In aiming for impeccability, they risk achieving neither perfection nor completion.

So, in the quest to protect their reputation, perfectionists might just be placing it in greater jeopardy. It’s a paradox, isn’t it?

The Trust Gap

For those who’ve mostly gone solo or faced delegation disasters in the past, handing over the reins isn’t just hard—it feels near impossible. They cast a doubtful eye, wondering if their team really has the chops to get the job done.


This trust gap doesn’t just hold them back from delegating; it tempts them to hover over the few tasks they do hand off, leading them into the micromanaging minefield. And guess what? It’s not just about inefficiency. It’s about the annoyance and grumbles it stirs in the team. The result is a dip in morale and a task outcome that’s less than stellar.

In trying to dodge a perceived risk, they inadvertently create a real one. They’re trying to do right by the project, but end up being their own biggest obstacle.

The Expert’s Dilemma

When you’re the go-to guru in a particular area, it’s easy to feel like you’re the hero that every task needs. Handing off work might seem like an open invitation for errors and second-rate results.

These leaders, proud of their expertise, often become guardians of ‘The Way Things Are Done’. The team’s different approaches aren’t just different; to the expert, they look like potential missteps.

But here’s the counterintuitive truth: giving tasks to others is the key to becoming an even better expert. By freeing up the mental space and time to dive deeper into that expertise or to scout out fresh territories to conquer.

Holding tight to every task isn’t preserving mastery; it’s stifling its potential to grow further. It’s a surprising realization, but letting go can be the very thing that allows you to reach your next level of brilliance.


Unclear Goals

If you don’t know where you’re headed, handing over the map won’t help. When a leader isn’t sure about a task’s endgame, passing it on is like playing broken telephone — the end message gets jumbled. That’s a one-way ticket to mistakes and lackluster results.

If you want a smooth delegation ride, start with a pause. Before passing the baton, get your objectives in laser-sharp focus. Pin down the outcomes you’re chasing, chalk out a plan, and set those expectations straight.

Delegation isn’t just about offloading a task; it’s about ensuring the team races on a clear track.

Lack of Delegation Skills

Delegating isn’t just saying, “You do this.” It’s a craft. It’s about knowing which tasks to pass on, how to clearly set the stage for them, giving a helpful nudge when needed, and steering the ship without commandeering it. If a leader isn’t equipped with these skills, handing over tasks can feel like navigating in the dark.

So, how do you turn on the lights? Double down on learning. Whether it’s through training sessions, teaming up with a seasoned mentor, or just getting pointers from those who’ve been around the block, leveling up in delegation is doable.

If delegation feels like a shaky bridge, it’s time to reinforce it. No magic required, just a bit of learning and practice.

Final Thoughts

So, we’ve laid it bare — the fears, the hesitations, the barriers that make delegation seem like a high-wire act. But here’s the bright flip side: every single one of these hurdles can be vaulted. It’s not about superhuman strength or being a management wizard. It’s simpler than that. It comes down to learning and practicing.


Delegating is not losing control; it’s choosing to lead differently. It’s trading the solo act for a symphony — diverse, harmonious, and resonant. It’s embracing the fact that together, we’re not just faster; we’re better.


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