Help! I Can’t Delegate!

“I’ll never be able to delegate. I just don’t have the personality for it.”

Well, yes and no. Or, more specifically, no and yes. Delegation phobia, as I like to call it, is definitely rooted in personality. My ENFJ friend has no problem with it. She recently told an entire meeting, “Someone needs to write these thank-you letters, and I’d prefer it not to be me.”

She may need to work on her approach, but I’m utterly envious of her shameless delegation potential. It comes naturally to her. Her ENFJ charisma and energy have her recruiting committees before she’s even out of college.

As an ISTJ personality, I’m not wired to delegate easily. But does that mean I’ll never learn? Absolutely not. Personality is not a set of fixed behaviors, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn an important skill like delegating.

Personality is useful, though. For me, knowing that I’m an ISTJ has helped me to figure out why I have trouble delegating. In short, I prefer to work in my own little bubble.

That’s just me. Different personality types struggle to delegate for different reasons. The more you know about your type, the more you can increase your comfort level and get better at delegating — in a way that works for you.

Which personalities struggle to delegate?

We ISTJs — “inspectors” — are orderly and methodical. We have procedures for everything we do, and I do mean everything. It’s hard to let someone else take the reins. We’d rather do it ourselves and know that it’s going to get done the “right” way.

We’re not the only ones who struggle to delegate, either. Several personality types have a hard time turning tasks over to others. For example:

ISTP (the Craftsperson) is a highly private person. ISTPs are observant makers of things, mulling over problems and trying out solutions in their own minds. They love being left to their own devices, and they’d prefer to let others do the same.

ISFP (the Composer), like the Craftsperson, prefers to do their own thing. They’re chilled-out, go-with-the-flow kind of people. Asking an ISFP to delegate is like asking a cat to give you directions.

INFP (the Healer) is all about freedom. INFPs want everyone to be able to do their own thing, so they’re practically allergic to what they perceive as bossing other people around.

INTP (the Healer): is also a freedom-loving soul, but more because INTPs prefer to think, analyze, and get things done on their terms. Explaining a task to another person is an extra mental burden the INTP doesn’t always want.

ISFJ (the Protector) takes care of others, so putting more on someone’s plate isn’t comfortable for them. ISFJs don’t want to make anyone’s life harder than it has to be.

ESFJ (the Provider), like the ISFJ, cares too much to be comfortable delegating. ESFJs would rather have other people delegating to them than be the one giving the orders. 

The Introvert Thing

You’ve probably noticed that most of the personalities that struggle to delegate are labeled “I” for “Introvert.” In general, Introverts tend to be more reluctant delegators than their more extraverted counterparts.

It’s not because Introverts are shy — a common misconception, by the way — but because Introverts prefer to mull things over and have a fully formed idea before they put it out there.

When you’re never quite sure if you’re done thinking about a task, and you’re definitely not sure you know everything about how it should be done, it’s hard to pass it off to someone else.

I get it, trust me.

That doesn’t mean that all Introverts are bad at delegating. The INTJ  — after a little trial and error — is quite good at it. They come up with rock-solid strategies with clear individual action steps, and they have the intuition to communicate them well and sensitively. Once they get their head around the idea of lowering their own ridiculously high performance standards, and as long as the person they are delegating to does not need too much hand holding, then they can delegate effectively.   

If you’re an Introvert who is okay with delegating, you’re probably an INTJ.

What’s so hard about delegating?

Different personality types have different reasons for preferring not to delegate, but there are some common threads.

You can’t explain it. You know that something has to be done, but you haven’t quite gotten your head around how to describe it, so you don’t feel ready to delegate it. This is a big one for me as an ISTJ. If I don’t have a procedure, I feel like I can’t hand it off.

It’s too important. When a task could make or break a group or a project, you’re reluctant to pass it off to someone else. Usually, this objection is related to:

The buck stops with you. When you’re the one taking the fall if something goes wrong, it’s hard to risk someone else messing things up. It’s not that you don’t trust people, but that we can’t afford the loss of control. We ISTJs know this line of thinking well.

You feel guilty. ISFJs, ISFPs and other “givers” experience this one a lot. It seems almost mean to delegate because you’re making someone else do work. Wouldn’t it be kinder to do the work yourself?

Well, no. According to Laura Lunsford, associate professor and program director at The University of Arizona’s School of Mind, Brain and Behavior:  “You’ll start feeling overwhelmed, you’ll get anxious for not getting everything done on time, the team has to wait to move forward and it shows that you don’t trust your staff to do a good job.”

Delegating benefits everyone. That’s important for all of us to know, regardless of personality type.

Getting better at delegating

There comes a time for all of us delegation-phobics when the pile of projects gets so big, we have to hand bring other people on board, or we’ll get buried. (Literally or figuratively. Ask me about the time I had 150 welcome packets to compile in three hours.)

When that time comes, it’s important to take advice from people who’ve been down the learning-to-delegate role before. Here are a few things that have helped me.

Ask people to help you delegate. If the guilt thing is one of your blocks, consider asking people on your team to remind you to delegate. When someone else brings it up, you feel better about handing it off.

Rank your tasks by “delegability.” Look at your to-do list and arrange it based on how important it is that you do something yourself. Use a numerical scale or put things into categories like “must do myself” or “can delegate if necessary.” This is very useful if you’re a procedure-minded ISTJ like me.

Get SMART. Have you heard of SMART goals? They’re Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. Give your task a SMART goal like “We need to have three grants written this month,” and it’s easier to hand it off. Very comforting for those of us who resist delegating because we want precise control.

Set a check-in schedule. When you first start delegating, you want to check up on the task a lot, so give yourself “appointments” — more for more complex tasks, fewer for simpler ones. Then you can reassure yourself that you’re not being overbearing.

These are just a few of the delegating tips that are floating around out there. I’ve had the most luck with the task-ranking one, but your mileage may vary.

Have you tried any of these strategies, or any that aren’t mentioned here? How did they work for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Laura DeCesare

Laura is a freelance writer and ghostwriter focused mainly on mental health, wellness, and self-care. She received her master's degree in Expressive Therapies from Lesley University but discovered she is far too much a Thinker and Judger to be a therapist. She now uses her knowledge of psychology and human behavior to connect with people via words. Her Introvert self is much happier with this arrangement.

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