Julie Morgenstern Brings Us Delegation Part 1: Providing Clear Directions

Organizing expert Julie Morgenstern on how to delegate

Click here to read the whole story on the BEYOND TODAY blog

Imagine you are shipping something across the country — family heirlooms, a dining set, an old loveseat for your son, the recent college graduate. Now, imagine when the guy driving the truck arrives, you provide fuzzy directions — a town, but no street address,  your son’s first name only, no deliver-by due date, no hint of how to get there. You slap him on the back on the way out the door, “You’ll be great, buddy, just figure it out.”  Sheer madness, right? This is how people delegate tasks all the time.

By all measures, delegation is a challenging time management skill.   People often lament — “by the time I explain it, I could just do it myself”  or  “every time I delegate something I have to re-do the work anyway.” At the root of blurry direction are usually two feelings, either a belief that your guidance might cramp the other person’s style; or worse, “I don’t know what I want, but I know it when I see it” (fourteen words sure to make anyone with services-for-hire shudder).

Staying vague is costly — you waste bundles of money paying people who don’t produce what you want or need, or redoing the work 10 times, as you change your mind. You also pay in gobs of time — taking over tasks that weren’t on your to-do list, stealing focus and energy you can’t afford.

Whether you’re delegating at the office, bringing on a landscaper or hiring a photographer for your daughter’s upcoming nuptials (as I am), click here for three ways to improve your “guiding” skills on the Beyond Today blog.


New York Times bestselling author Julie Morgenstern is an organizing and time-management expert, business productivity consultant and speaker. Her company, Julie Morgenstern Enterprises, is dedicated to using her philosophies and methods to provide a wide range of practical solutions that transform the way people and companies function.

4 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    Seems to me I have always been on either the giving or receiving end of delegation, depending on my current job. Sometimes both.

    If you are handed a task and don’t know what to do with it, ASK QUESTIONS. It’s only smart to get up to speed. And remember your boss is probably not the only one who has ever dealt with the situation. You can seek out advice from co-workers as well.

    If you are delegating a task, SPECIFY the important parts, or the essential standard, stay available for guidance, but let your subordinate run with it. Usually, I found that they do the work to standard, no surprises; but sometimes, they will come up with a solution that you might not have thought of and it might even be an improvement!

    • avatar Barbara says:

      Lila, Interesting that you say this. Many years ago, when I was a new manager, a friend sent me a video of Pat Helm talking about the Power Dead Even Rule. She is a fascinating speaker and one of the points she makes is that men and women operate very differently in business. The boss (usually a man) gives direction. The male takes that direction and says “Great!” He runs out of the room and does stuff. The female says, “Did you take this into account? Could we approach it this way? How about that for an additional thought?”

      The male boss loves the “team player” male worker who understands he is the coach calling the play and goes out and starts executing. He views the female as a problem. He feels like she just doesn’t get it. She’s such a pain in the a** because she asks so many questions.

      When it is time for a promotion, the go-to-it male gets the promo, even though the female had a better thought out approach, the people working with her love her teaming and she has a deep understanding of what she is doing.

      I’ve always remembered this. When I’m delegated a task, I immediately say yes and get going. I figure out what the end result metric will be and I drive straight toward that.

      There’s nothing wrong with your suggestion to ask questions. It just made me smile as I remembered the piece by Pat Helm.

      • avatar Lila says:

        Barbara, yes, men and women really have different styles. People have told me that I am not a “typical female.” Whatever that means; I’m just myself.

        But on the questions: Haven’t you run into folks who hate to ask questions, lest they be thought stupid? Yet many of my bosses have had the philosophy that the only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask. And more than once, sitting in some meeting, a strange acronym would get tossed out and I would ask: “What is that? I haven’t heard it before.” And it would get explained. Almost invariably, someone else would then say, “I sure am glad you asked that, because I didn’t know either.”

        You are right, though – the questions need to help define the desired end state, and once you know that, it’s off and running.

  2. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Too many people are afraid to delegate or act as a true leader for fear of not being liked. If you are in a position of authority you need to learn to separate your work life from your social life. If you are in charge the people under you need clear cut instructions.

    The other part of delegating is to step back and let people do their work without micromanaging. Anytime the leader steps in and says “May I make a suggestion?” the person doing the work is often kicked back to square one. As a leader you have to learn to accept that the work can be completed to the company satisfaction in different ways. I can always learn from those other methods.