The Five Components of Effective Delegation

Matt Perman

With so many things on our to-do lists and so many new things coming at us every day, how do we stay above water as leaders?   

One common answer is delegation. That’s good advice, but it’s often incomplete. The problem is that we often aren’t taught how to delegate effectively. As a result, when we finally overcome the mistake of not delegating at all, we easily end up making the other mistake of delegating in the wrong way. Unfortunately, this mistake can be even worse! Bad delegation results in frustration, confusion, and discouragement for the people we delegate to.

So how do we delegate in a way that works? That is, what does real delegation actually look like, and how do we do it?

That first thing to know is that real delegation is above all based on a philosophy, rather than a series of steps. The philosophy is simply this: respect for the individual. Since people are created in the image of God and have incredible intrinsic worth, they are always to be treated in accord with that worth (even when delegating!).

Practically speaking, this means that our aim in delegation should not just be to the get the tasks done. It should be to build up the other person through the accomplishment of the tasks.

Real delegation is about more than just the tasks; it’s about the people and the tasks.

When our aim is to build up the other person through the tasks that they are delegated, we treat the other person as they ought to be treated and  create far better results. For this type of delegation is motivating, instills ownership, and ultimately increases the capacity of the entire organization.

With this philosophy of delegation in place, how do you delegate in a way that gets the tasks done and builds people up in the process? You do this by communicating five things.


1. Desired Results

These are the things that need to be accomplished. This is the most important thing because the person won’t be able to get anything done if they don’t know what they need to do in the first place. But note that these are the what—not the how. For example, when I call up the local sandwich shop to order a sub, I ask for a #2 (roast beef) and tell them my address. I don’t tell them how to make it, how to get to my house, or how fast they should drive. Likewise, the key to delegating in an empowering and motivating way that instills ownership is to make sure the outcomes are clear while preserving as much freedom as possible for the person to find their own way to accomplish those ends.


2. Guidelines

Of course, while you want to preserve as much freedom as possible, it’s not enough just to tell the person what is needed and give no other guidance. There are often standards that are essential to accomplishing the task effectively. So, give the guidelines and point out any wrong turns they should be aware of. But note that you are giving guidelines, not detailed rules. You aren’t determining methods; you are showing the broad parameters that will help them to be effective. Also make sure that they are truly empowered—they need to know that they are free to do whatever it takes to accomplish the desired results, within the guidelines.


3. Resources

This step is often skipped in delegation. Let the person know what is at their disposal, such as the budget available (if relevant) and additional personnel.


4. Accountability

You don’t need to define accountability for every task delegated—that would get tiresome. Accountability just needs to be in place for the overall context of the relationship. This means knowing what the standards of performance are and when the regular reviews are.


5. Consequences

Again, this doesn’t have to be defined for every specific task, but simply as part of the larger framework of the relationship. This would include both the good outcomes if the accountability is fulfilled and what will happen if it isn’t. Positive outcomes might include increased responsibility, promotions, financial rewards, natural consequences, and so forth.


It is true that delegation means that some things will be done less efficiently—at first. But it is worth it, because the aim is not just efficiency, but building people up. By building people up in this way through delegation, you increase the capacity of the entire organization for the long term—which is always both more efficient and effective.

Matt Perman is former director of strategy at Desiring God and author of  What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. He blogs at and lives in Minneapolis. Twitter: @mattperman 

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