The Double-edged Sword of Delegation

I delegated a task the other day. It is rather freeing to be able to pass the baton to others, especially in a situation where there is good documentation and an opportunity for another person to learn. I do not feel strongly that I have to be the person to take on any specific operational task; I don’t derive my value or my perception of job security from a personal hoard of tasks that only I can accomplish. If anything, I desire to remove the old and well-documented from my plate to enable the new and unknown to have space. However, in true delegation wherein the task is forevermore not on my plate, I have found that there is also a sense of loss.

For context, the system in which I was delegating the task has been mine” for the duration of my tenure in my current position (~8.5 years), so the sense of loss I felt has one major aspect that I can internalize enough to discuss at the moment: a change from a long-standing personal expectation of ownership. This manifested as a sudden realization that I may not be needed for that system anymore, that someday I may not even be the most knowledgeable person in the room for this system. Even more, as the system gets updated, changed, or replaced, I may not be the clear choice of person to engage in the conversations that make up much of what I used to do.

From a leadership perspective, delegation is a means of both freeing up time for higher level things and growing someone else’s knowledge and capacity. When viewed through the latter lens, I can take comfort in the knowledge that my selfish sense of loss is allowing someone else to grow in new and interesting ways. Add to all this the fact that passing the baton to another person enables a leader to be comfortable with the idea of moving onto the next opportunity, be it a new project or a new job or eventually retirement.

For a future iteration of these ideas, there is one other aspect that I have not yet fully formed a thought about: the transition of a service in a leaders mind from an operational one to a strategic one; that shift feels like a natural partner to or outcome of delegation. When a leader lets go of the operational aspects of a service, they are not allowed to completely forget about the service’s value to the organization, only the details of its operation. Even as I hand off operational aspects of the work to others, I want the opportunity to engage in those same services at a strategic level.




In 2022, I am participating in two leadership training programs. This should be a social experience, so I am writing about it. Check out the full list of posts in the series here.

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