It drives me crazy to see leaders who are unable to delegate.  I continue to see opportunities for organizations to improve in this area…and that is an understatement…particularly in heavily technical organizations.  Failure to effectively delegate results in a slow-moving organization, a demotivated organization, and an organization with higher than normal operating costs.

  • Slow-moving because a few people are trying to do everything and are not effectively utilizing the skills of the people around them.
  • Demotivated because the other people on the team are not getting the chance to contribute and be recognized for their worth.
  • Higher operating costs because delegating means assigning tasks to people working for you.  Those people are likely earning less than you.  As such, if they are performing a task it costs your company less than if you are performing those same tasks.

You have to look at delegation as assigning authority…not responsibility.  You must learn to maintain control and responsibility from a distance.

A short time back I was talking with a friend who was having trouble with several aspects of his pharmaceutical regulatory consulting business.  He was not getting the performance he wanted from his employees and they were demotivated.    He was not making the profits that he should and he was overworked.  He felt that if he just worked harder, things would get better.  Unfortunately, he had been saying that for quite a few years, and had not made any progress.  I could not imagine him working any harder, but he kept thinking that was the answer.

This is not an unusual perspective, especially for technically trained people, and even more so for people who hold the professional credentials required for their business.

In a moment of desperation, he asked me what I thought he should do.  First, I explained to him the effects I described above.  Then we discussed how he can find a middle ground in which he can let go of some of the tasks that need to be done while still assuring the quality levels he requires.

The reason delegating is motivating is because it tacitly recognizes someone’s worth.  You trust them to do the job well, and they want to live up to that expectation.  They want to contribute.  They want to be of value.  Controlling everything yourself has the opposite effect.

Then I explained to him that there is an even more important aspect of effectively structuring your operation and delegating tasks.  To start we agreed that a fundamental principle in profitable business operations is delivering the right product or service, at the right price, at the least possible cost.  The “right service” is closely regulated in the drug development world, and pricing is very competitive.  That leaves cost reduction as the key to managing profitability.

The problem here was that he was doing everything.  By doing so he was minimizing his profitability because HE was handling most of the tasks, and HE is the most expensive employee in the company.  That made sense to him.

If you are not delegating, then you are not leading; you are doing.

Further, I pointed out that if he were the only one performing all these tasks, or overseeing every aspect of every job, then the total volume of work he could expect to do in his organization was limited to the workload that he alone could handle.  That put a great limitation on his business prospects for the future.

So, he agreed to consider this idea of delegating.  Question was, “how”?

  • Simple first step: I told him to list ALL the tasks he ever finds himself doing…every one of them.  Take a few days, take notes about what you are doing, and make a list.
  • Second: Put that list in order from the most to the least by what REQUIRES your technical training and abilities.
  • Finally: Start to delegate by taking the bottom 10% of those items and assigning them to someone else.  Get them OFF your list.  Clearly define exactly what you want done, and establish the methods and mechanisms for keeping an eye on the quality from a distance by developing and reviewing checkpoints or metrics. Over time you can go to the next 10% of the items on the bottom of your list, and so on until you find the right balance.


It is very difficult for people to let go of control in their businesses.  However, it is fundamental to effective and profitable operations to have a clear and appropriate delineation of duties.  You have to look at delegation as assigning authority while learning to maintain control and responsibility from a distance.  If you are not delegating, then you are not leading; you are doing.