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Just Can't Let Go: Why Delegating is Difficult

Recently, I had a consulting job in which a small business owner wanted me to reorganize a few jobs. His concern was that one of his best employees had become so overburdened with responsibilities that she was heading towards burnout. Much of her job required her to be on call at one of their locations and she was routinely called out on evenings, weekends, and even in the dead of night.

After reviewing job descriptions and interviewing employees about their work, I sat down with this key employee and a few others and began suggesting tasks that we could take from her and assign to others.

Much to my surprise, this overloaded employee on the verge of quitting wasn’t ready to give up any tasks. She worked with competent, helpful people - and yet, when I suggested moving tasks around, she balked.

I thought about it more later and realized maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised at this employee’s reaction. Sometimes I have the very same problem: I take on a lot, I feel overwhelmed and overloaded, and yet I just can’t let go.

As an academic professional, this is my area of expertise. I know all too well the benefits of delegating - so why don’t I do it more often?

For one, I get impatient. I want something done now, and I think it’s not worth the time to instruct someone else on how I want it done. Second, my perfectionism gets in the way. I’ve got many competent coworkers, but the easiest way to make sure that something’s done the way that I want it done is to do it myself. Finally, I’m used to being independent. My work is pretty self-directed, and it’s easy to get into the habit of only relying on myself.

So what should you do when you just can’t let go? I’m planning to revert to a tried-and-true strategy of mine: goal setting. I’ve had a particular task these last few months that’s not hard to do, but requires some consistent attention. I’d rather spend my time on other things (like blogging!), so I’ve set a goal to meet with my assistant this week and train him on that task before handing it over to him.

I’ll start small and move forward from there as I feel more comfortable. I’m certain this will allow me to spend time focusing on higher priority tasks and feel a stronger sense of balance.

And what ever happened with the key employee from the beginning of my story? She finally relented and gave up some of her less important tasks to others. I’m hopeful that she’s seeing the benefits and feeling a little more balance at work these days.

When do you have a hard time letting go? What are some ways in which you could ask for help or delegate small tasks? Send me an email at and tell me about your successes and struggles. I’ll check in next week and keep you posted on my progress.


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