Becoming a Better Delegator and Coach

Give your employees every opportunity to succeed and develop.

Done well, delegation is a form of coaching. Here are six steps you can take to become a more effective delegator and coach.

  1. Plan Ahead. If you have difficulty delegating, you likely struggle with planning. You can't delegate well if you don't plan well. Poor delegators wait until they get overwhelmed and then react by throwing a project on someone else's desk. Great delegators look down the road and anticipate what must happen and when. Then, they delegate pieces of the project with "mini-deadlines" (which we'll discuss later) to others to complete.
  2. Break projects into bite-sized chunks. If you are delegating to a competent, experienced person you can hand them an entire project and they will get it done without much involvement from you. If your team members are less skilled, less experienced or both you will overwhelm them with an entire project. Instead, break the project into smaller chunks that they can handle.
  3. Slow down to speed up. If the to whom you are delegating has limited experience, slow down and show them exactly what you want done. Walk them through examples of similar work. Suggest resources they can draw upon. The time you invest now in explaining what you want, why you want it that way, and how it should be done will save you countless hours later.
  4. Ask and listen don't talk and tell. Here's a secret. Effective coaches most of the answers, but spend their time asking good questions. They know that when people discover answers for themselves, they are more committed to their implementation. When you ask questions, however, you must be genuinely interested in what other people have to say. The executives and managers who do this best get excited when others come up with new and better strategies. If you lack sincerity, your questions will be patronizing rather than helpful.
  5. Set deadlines within deadlines. One of the reasons that managers fail at delegating is that they wait until the figurative last minute to check on people's progress. Then, when things have not been done correctly, they panic and take it upon themselves to fix the problems themselves. To avoid this, set "deadlines within deadlines" when you delegate. If a project must be completed one month from today, agree to meet with the employee in one week to check on his or her progress. That way, if he or she is off track, you still have plenty of time to turn them in the right direction.
  6. Don't take it back! If you have followed all the preceding steps, congratulations! You are on your way to becoming a first class delegator and coach. Now you face the moment of truth. Don't take that project back. When you review people's work and catch mistakes, insist that the employee fix his or her own mistakes. Provide them with guidance, but don't to their thinking for them. Ask them to think further about the project and come back to you with better solutions. Then, set another mini-deadline. If you refuse to follow this step and instead finish the project yourself, you are not a leader, you are an enabler.

The payoff: If you follow these steps, you are giving your employees every opportunity to succeed and develop. You will see many of your employees take on more and more responsibility as they learn from your systematic approach to delegation. You will also figure out which employees will never be effective in a role no matter how well they are coached. This lets you act quickly to move those people out and find others who are more suited for the position.

Eric Herrenkohl is Founder and President of Herrenkohl Consulting (, a management consulting firm focused on creating organizations that drive growth and profits. His work has been published or cited in the Philadelphia Inquirer,,,, and Eric is also the author of Performance Principles, a monthly e-letter that reaches thousands of subscribers across North America and is re-printed in a number of industry and company newsletters.