Do you work for a boss who refuses to delegate certain tasks or who “does not have the time to teach?” If so, then you’re not alone. Many managers have received no training in delegation and the lack of this critical skill can make them really tough to work with. If your boss doesn’t delegate, then you might feel like she doesn’t fully trust you. Worse, you could end up feeling like you’re being held back and bossed around from task to task instead of being allowed to grow in your career. What to do?
There are lots of reasons why managers do not delegate—most of them rooted in personality. Understanding why they’re not delegating is the first step in learning how to work with an under-delegating boss.
Why Can’t Some Bosses Delegate?
Many personalities find it tough to delegate although their excuses come from different places. Here are the top five reasons why your boss may be struggling:
1. He thinks he can do it faster and better than you
Perfectionist personalities have a hard time delegating. They can only be confident that something is done right when they do it themselves—it pains them to see you doing a job in a less efficient or less competent way. Even if they do give up responsibility for a task, these managers are prone to micro-managing. They keep watching over your shoulder because they’re afraid you’re going to do something wrong and they’ll get the blame for it.
2. Explaining the task takes longer than the actual task
The thought process goes like this: “If I try to train this employee, it would take me an hour to go through the process and all the variables, and then another hour correcting their work when they do it wrong and I would be better off just taking 30 minutes out of my schedule to do the task myself.” Well, that’s great except that you’ll all be stuck in the same situation next week, and the week after and every other time a similar task comes in. Some personalities have a strong need to complete tasks at the earliest opportunity without realizing they need to off load their routine work to save time and energy in the long run.
3. The team is already at full capacity
If your boss thinks that the team is already busy and has no more bandwidth to take on new tasks, then she may do the task herself rather than overburden you. This is human and understandable: sometimes it is kinder for a manager to deal with an assignment herself rather than toss out a hot potato to a stressed-out team. But even when it comes from a place of caring, under-delegating the work robs you of valuable learning activities where you can grow your skills and capabilities.
4. Employees do not have the necessary knowledge
Delegation does not always work out as intended, and most managers will have horror stories about a time they were burned by delegated assignments that were done badly, putting them in a difficult position and creating more work for the other members of the team. If that’s the manager’s experience, then it’s not surprising that he is reluctant to delegate assignments, especially complex projects and those that have a high level of risk. But what happens if the boss is away? This attitude may ensure the current assignment gets done well, but it doesn’t solve the very real problem of making sure there’s always someone else ready to jump in and deal with an important task in an emergency.
5. But I get paid for it!
Many supervisors think that they have to perform every task that crosses their desks—it’s what they are paid to do. This often happens when someone is freshly promoted to a leadership position. New managers may struggle for some time before they realize that they’re not paid to do the work, but to get the work done. Another problem is that many managers are not taught how to delegate properly. If they’ve never had to delegate before, then of course they’re going to be anxious and fearful because they’re unsure of the outcome.
Whatever the reason, a boss who’s a terrible delegator can be bad news for your career. If you’re not trusted to perform the challenging tasks, then you’re going to get frustrated by the lack of opportunities to use your talents and you’ll start to feel stagnant in your career.
How to Deal with a Boss Who Can’t Delegate: Five Strategies
When your boss won’t delegate to you, what’s the next step? Here are five strategies to help you handle a controlling boss.
1. Find out why
First, ask yourself why your manager is refusing to delegate. There’s a big difference between a boss who is not delegating to you because she believes you have enough on your plate already, and one with an intractable “I-can-do-it-better-myself” mentality. Figure out why your boss does not give up tasks so you can take appropriate countermeasures.
2. Try the multiple choice strategy
Instead of simply asking your boss “how can I help?” get really specific with your offer. For instance, you might say, “Steve, I know we have a lot to prepare for next week’s presentation. I’d be happy to prepare the Powerpoint slides or draft the briefing memo. Which would you like me to start on?” Phrasing your offer as a multiple choice makes it much harder for your boss to say no.
3. Prove you know what you’re doing
If your boss is perfectionist, risk averse, or is worried the task will take longer to explain than complete, then go to your boss with a plan of action. For instance, when you offer to prepare the Powerpoint, take along a rough sketch of what the presentation might look like. By doing some initial work, you demonstrate that you’re motivated, smart and have a good understanding of what needs to be done—which should go a long way in helping your boss realize she can count on you.
4. Sell the benefits
Your boss is not going to change unless you help him, so don’t play the waiting game. Take the initiative and explain how your boss would be doing you a favor by delegating to you. For example, you could explain how delegating this type of task to you would really help you prove your worth to the company, and it would free the manager up to do another, more important task that would help prove her worth to the higher ups. Bosses who are reluctant to delegate for fear of swamping you are missing the point. Good employees want to help their bosses because you’re all in this together.
5. Reassure him
If it looks like your boss is worried about your competency, suggest strategies that will reassure him of your ability to deliver a good outcome. For instance, you could agree to report on progress regularly or to deliver the assignment ahead of schedule so there’s time for the boss to get involved and course correct if necessary. If your boss is a bit of a control freak, then a slow-and-steady approach is the best way to wean them off the habit.
Just be careful not to take it too far. It’s much easier to handle a manager who’s reluctant to delegate than one who delegates too much.