LME033 – How I Learned to delegate


How I learned to delegate!

I co-founded my first company – it was a high-tech start-up – in 1995. That’s more than 25 years ago.

In that time I had a completely wrong idea of ​​entrepreneurship and leadership. That’s why I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning and only learned over the years what really matters in leadership as well as in entrepreneurship.

The time problem!

My biggest challenge back then was time. Finding time for the important things. I was almost exclusively on the operational side. The day-to-day operations really took me over.

I had the feeling that I always had to keep all the things in the company together, I worked around the clock – often even on weekends.

Everything revolved around the company.

Also at home. Taking a week off, taking a vacation and really switching off – I didn´t really manage to do that. I felt overwhelmed and overworked.

With my first company we had 20 employees, but I always had the feeling that they were working on the wrong things or that they were not doing it correctly, meaning the way I would do it.

I wanted to change this situation but I didn’t know how. I couldn’t even find time to think in silence and focus for example on important strategy issues.

My experience with other managers

In the last few years I worked as a leadership coach for executives and entrepreneurs and I have seen many of them who are in a very similar situation like I was: They work and work all the time, but they are trapped in their operational hamster wheel – sometimes 70-80 hours a week and still find no time for the important things.

Most of them – and I felt the same way – have great difficulty delegating tasks to their employees. It is immediately obvious that this would give them more time but delegating just doesn’t work.

I felt the same way. If I delegated something to my co-workers, it wasn’t done right – not the way I would like it to be. I always had to control and correct them.

Instructing and controling everything

I had the impression that I always had to instruct everything down to the last detail. It was frustrating – and time consuming. But delegating was supposed to buy me time.

Let me describe the situation in which I found myself in these days. Our start-up was all about analysing vibrations of machines.

Similar to how a doctor checks a person’s heartbeat with a stethoscope, we used sensors to analyze the vibrations of machines in order to identify flaws and damage on these machines at an early stage. We developed and sold systems for this, but also performed diagnostics as a service for our customers on site.

Since I worked intensively on this vibration analysis – it was part of my PHD research project years before we founded our company –  I was usually the one who carried out these diagnoses for our customers. I was the expert at that time.

I had to delegate.

As our company grew, I had to choose to delegate these diagnostic tasks. After all, it was no longer my job as managing director to stand knee-deep in oil and use sensors to diagnose machines on site. Although I enjoyed it. It was fun. But I had to change from being a technical expert to being a manager. And that was difficult for me. It was difficult to change.

In my opinion in this time: None of my employees seemed good enough to do the analysis as I did.

Only then when I simply didn´t have time anymore to do it, I had to delegate these tasks – whether I wanted to or not.

Because at that time I built up our international sales structure and was therefore traveling abroad a lot. Most of the time I was somewhere in the world, so I couldn’t control everything and everyone anymore.

The changed situation

Now something interesting happened: I wasn’t there – I was somewhere else. I couldn’t give instructions and constantly check-up on my employees.

So, what happened? Sure, in the beginning a lot went wrong. My co-workers did a lot of things differently compared to how I would have done it.  They made mistakes which, as I believed at the time, would not have happened to me – but then – after a while, the results got better and better. Two employees even stood out. Their diagnostic results were not only as good but even better than mine. After about a year and a half, they carried out significantly better diagnoses than I did.

That was fascinating.

And through this experience, it has become much easier for me to delegate tasks to others. I know it will likely get worse at first and take longer – but then I have a good chance that the task will not only be done as well as I would do it, but even better.

Starting to delegate is an investment in employee training – it costs time and energy. But it’s worth it.

When you delegate a task to your employee, you put it in their hands. You trust that they will get it done by the agreed date.

Here it is important: If you delegated a task, avoid asking your employee about the progress of their work before the agreed date.

Do not check up on them all the time, but only check the agreed result.

Otherwise you will prevent your employee to take real responsibility for the taks. I know, you probably don’t mean to do so, but this is what happens. Because what you are doing is micromanaging.

For example: If you ask your employee before the agree deadline: “So, how is it going? Will you be ready on time?”

If you delegated the task the right way and you ask this question you show her that you don’t trust her. You don’t trust that she will be finished on time. But wait: She promised you to meet the deadline when you delegated the task, right? S, why do you ask her before the deadline is due?

Don’t get me wrong!

It can be hard to hold back. But this is crucial if you want to build trust in your employees and if you want to help your employees to improve.

By the way: Make sure that you always delegate the tasks depending on the skills of your employees. You can assign a large project to an experienced employee and after 2 months you only control the result. That is ok.

But with someone who is not so experienced, you have to break the project down. You can arrange weekly appointments, so called milestones to monitor the progress of the project. But be careful: Only check at the agreed time, not in between.

The rule for delegation is: Check previously agreed results at the agreed time, but not the process!

Avoid Reverse delegation!

Let me give you another important tip:

Perhaps you´re familiar with the following situation:

Yesterday you delegated an important task to your employee John. He should prepare a project report by next week. Today you are quite stressed and on your way to the next meeting when John approaches you in passing:

“Boss, it’s good to see you. I have a problem. I’m supposed to write the project report. I’ve put something together, but somehow I’m not getting anywhere. You know a lot about XYZ. Could you take a quick look at what I wrote and maybe add a couple of keywords?”

So? How do you react? Mentally you are actually already at that meeting. Yes, you are the expert on Project XYZ, but actually you have neither the time for it nor can you think about that in the moment. You are just thinking:

“How can I get rid of John as quickly as possible?”

So you say:

“OK, give me your notes. I’ll take care of it later. “

And whoosh – just like that there´s one more task on your desk – a task that you actually delegated to your employee, right?

That is called a reverse delegation or upward delegation. If you, as the boss, take on the delegated tasks, you are doing the work that your employees should actually be doing. This is fatal because then you have no time for your actual tasks.

Many bosses suffer from upward delegation.

The question is why? – The answer is:Because they let their employees do this.

So what’s the best way to avoid that? You could just block the conversation by saying:

„John, am I supposed to do your job?“

But that’s not constructive. That’s frustrating and only makes your employees feel like they are not getting any support from you. You definitely want to support your employees if it is necessary.

The solution

You make an appointment with your employee to discuss the problem without hurries:

“Sorry John, now is not a good time but we can discuss this in my office in half an hour.”

So what`s happening here? You kill two birds with one stone: On the one hand: You are not controlled by someone else. That is very important. On the other hand, you give your employee enough time to think about his or her problem again. Maybe he or she will come up with the solution without your help. Great!

And if not, you can help your employee during your arranged meeting.

Listen to the podcast episode

LME016 – Meeting deadlines? Here’s how to do it!

Do you have a problem with meeting deadlines? It can be tricky, right?

But we all know it and we’re all annoyed by it, when it happens: I am talking about missed deadlines, unkept promises or delayed projects.

Why do these things happen? Why do people and companies not honor their deadline commitments? In most cases this isn’t ill will. This frequently involves poor planning, ineptitude or the misguided assumption that it will all work out somehow.

Listen to the podcast version

Meeting deadlines

Meeting Deadlines isn’t easy!
Image: eminozkant/ Resource:

10 Tips for meeting deadlines

Do you keep your promises? I know it is hard sometimes to stick to deadlines, right?

Here are 10 tips helping you for meeting deadlines:

1. Only commit to what you can do!

Never agree to an impossible deadline neither to please someone nor to to win an order. Otherwise, over the long haul this will do more harm than good: You will not only loose your customer’s trust, but you will also be stuck with a project that will bring nothing but irritation and problems, right from start.

It’s not just with your customers. Fo example, if you committed to a deadline to one of your employees and you can’t make it, you loose credibility and you destroy employee motivation. Don’t do this. Only commit to what you can do.

2. Put it in writing!

Always record your commitments and deadlines in writing. It will help to counteract your forgetfulness. Enter deadlines into your planner.

Also record small, apparently insignificant commitments in writing. For instance, if you have scheduled an appointment with an employee, send out an e-mail or an invitation via Outlook. This ensures that both parties clearly know when the meeting was supposed to take place.

3. Identify the purpose!

When you agree to a deadline, describe in detail what is to accomplished, completed or shipped by this deadline. What ‘s the purpose? The expectations on both sides need to be crystal clear, otherwise this can result in unpleasant misunderstandings down the road.

4. Learn to say no!

Reject unrealistic requirements right from the start. If you commit to a production machine with 102% efficiency you should not be surprised to find out that you cannot meet the deadline for this machine!

5. Agree on specific deadlines!

Don’t say:

“Let’s get back together sometime in summer.”

but agree on a specific date for the meeting, e.g. August 24, 2013. It is also advisable to determine where and at what time the meeting is to take place and how long it is scheduled to last.

6. Set deadlines for milestones

When larger projects are involved, it is best to partition the project at the start. Set deadlines for milestones and agree with them with your employees. This makes a large project more manageable. Here you find more about how to delegate and how to set these milestones.

This will also keep you from catching “procrastinitis”. A major project that is started and planned at the last minute has no chance of being completed on time.

7. Keep others informed

Tell your co-worker and employees about your commitments and also the deadlines for the milestones. This will help you to define goals. It serves as an additional motivating element and will help you to stick with the milestone deadlines.

8. Always plan with contingencies!

Learn to make realistic time estimates! Do not load up your entire schedule. You should keep at least 50% of your time reserved for contingencies and breaks. Keep in mind:

“If it can go wrong, it will go wrong!”

9. Do not try to be perfect!

There are things where you need to avoid making mistakes at all costs. But there is plenty of work where it is sufficient to get things done as best as possible.

Anyone who wants to ship a 100% perfect solution all the time will never meet the agreed to deadline. Avoid this!

10. Get help early!

When things get sticky you should consider: what activities do I have to take care of myself, what can I delegate or outsource? Who can help me right now: employees, suppliers, partners?

By the way: When things get tight, avoid multi-tasking. This will only waste more time. Always start with the unpleasant tasks first.

The worst case scenario: you cannot meet the deadline!

Inform all those involved as soon as it becomes apparent that you cannot meet the deadline. Once the cat it out of the bag, and you will miss the deadline, you must inform in a timely manner and present alternatives: this will not necessarily always result in a schedule delay. You can always propose to reduce the deliverable scope to those involved and meet the deadline that way.

The key is to inform early in the process and to give those involved the option to decide about the alternatives. This way you can at least prevent the situation from getting worse.


The inspiring quote

“A professional who doesn’t deliver as committed is not just lazy, he is a liar.”

Amit Kalantri


LME004 – Upward Delegation: How to avoid this kind of monkey business

We are talking about how to avoid upword delegation, often also refered to as back delegation or reverse delegation. It’s a problem a lot of managers suffer from.

Listen to the podcast version

upward delegation - monkey business

Upward delegation

When a task that you have delegated to an employee comes back to you – and you complete it. This is called reverse delegation or monkey business.

If you – as the boss – accept that an employee hands back the work given to him, then you do the work that your employee should actually be doing. That’s fatal, since you won’t have time for your own tasks.

In the following I’ll describe why so many executives have their problems with reverse delegation and how you can deal with it.

What exactly is upward delegation?

I can best explain it with an example:

Let’s assume that you delegated an important task to Jack last week. He was supposed to write the final report for Project XYZ by the end of next month. Jack knows this kind of project well and has all the information about it. You have complete confidence in him and in his abilities. That’s why you agreed with him that he only briefly reports back when he’s finished and sent the report.

Today you are very busy. You are on your way to an important meeting. Jack is talking to you in passing.

“Boss, I’m glad to see you. I’ve got a problem. I’m supposed to write that project report. I’ve put something together, but somehow I’m not getting anywhere. You know XYZ very well. Could you take a quick look at what I’ve written and perhaps add a few key words?”

So? How do you react?  In your mind you are actually somewhere else – namely already at your meeting. Yeah, sure. You’re the expert on Project XYZ, but you just can’t be bothered to do it right now. You just think:

“How do I get rid of Jack as quickly as possible?”

So you’re answering:

“OK. Jack, give it to me. I’ll deal with it later.”

Opps. – You have another task on your desk – a task that you had actually delegated to your employee, right?

Delegating back: Monkey Business

Many executives fall into this trap, called reverse delegation. As early as 1974 there was an article in the Harvard Business Review about it. The title:

“Management time: Who’s got the monkey?”

The authors compared tasks to be delegated with monkeys. Whoever is working on the task and who is responsible for it, is carrying the monkey on his shoulder. As long as he has the monkey he has to take care for him and feed him. This is expensive and takes time. If this becomes too much, you need to get rid of the monkey. Now the boss comes into play.

If the boss delegates a task, he puts the monkey on the shoulder of the employee. After a successful reverse delegation, the monkey sits again on the boss’ shoulder.

And if the boss has a lot of employees and does not resist, then very soon a lot of monkeys sit on his shoulder. Then he feels like a zookeeper. He’s in charge of feeding a lot of crazy monkeys.

The boss will then no longer be able to work properly on his tasks because he deals with tasks that he’s not supposed to do. He does the work of his employees.

The boss becomes the bottleneck.

It even goes as far as employees having to wait for their boss. The boss becomes the bottleneck. Then the employees complain:

“My boss can’t get anything done. He’s overdoing it. Our team can’t go on because we need his input but his work is piling up on his desk. He can’t manage at all. Who actually made this guy an executive?”

Why does reverse delegation take place? You have delegated a task and your employee tries to return the delegated task to you. The question is, why?

It can have many causes. For example, an employee is under a lot of time pressure, whether he’s just feeling it or not. The work just gets too much for him. He has taken on or promised too much, does not want to admit it and therefore tries to get rid of part of the work.

Perhaps the employee also has too little self-confidence in his abilities or feels overwhelmed. Here, too, he has accepted the task, but in the course of time he realizes it’s growing over his head.

In these cases your employee needs your help and support. But that doesn’t mean that you do his job.

What can you as a boss do?

Let’s assume you delegated the task correctly. You also made sure that the employee has the competence to solve the task. If there are problems, you told him, he can approach you – but not just in passing. You will help him, but always leave the responsibility with your employee and make an appointment to discuss the problem. Then ask:

“What would you do if I wasn’t there?”


“To solve the problem: what have you done so far?”


“What ideas do you have to solve the problem?”


“To make to solve the problem: What decisions do you need?”


“What exactly do you need from me now?”

With this kind of questions you coach your employee. In this way you ensure that he doesn’t remain on the problem side, but rather comes up with his own solutions.

Beware of your impulses.

Many managers are used to making quick decisions and thinking solution-oriented. However, in such a discussion with your employee you should suppress the impulse to work out the solution yourself.

If you solve the problem, it doesn’t train your employee’s solution behavior. You don’t really help him but you make him addicted. Because the next time he has a problem, he’d rather go straight to you than work on the solution himself. That’s not what you want, is it?

That’s why you support him with questions. Talk a little, explain a little, but ask. Help your employee by coaching him to find the solution. Suppress your problem-solving reflex.

Why are many managers being tricked into upward delegation?

Many managers fully understand the concept of reverse delegation, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. They keep finding out that they have somehow been tricked. Suddenly the monkey sits on the boss’s shoulder again. How could this have happened?

Some managers fear that if you do not solve the problem, their employees may consider you weak or incompetent. Others cannot say no, because you have a reflex of wanting to help or you are simply tempted to take on a complex task again.

Upward delegation because of incorrect behaviour

Sometimes, however, managers simply react incorrectly.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this:

You’ve been the expert in your field – and then you were promoted. Now you have the leading role and know that you should hand over the technical task to your employees. It is not your job to do the work of your employees. You realize that! But deep down inside you are proud to be perceived as an expert and not just a leader. You want to keep the status of an expert.

Normally, this need is not a problem for you. If you are concentrated or have enough time to think, you are safe. You decide rationally in favor of the leadership role and consistently hand over the technical work to your employees and you don’t allow reverse delegation.

However, it is different when you are under stress and have to make short-term decisions – without much thought – for instance when your thoughts are already in the next meeting and you are approached unprepared by your employee Jack on the corridor on the way there.

“Boss, can you take a look at this? I mean you are the expert. You know best about it…”

That’s something you love to hear from Jack. You enjoy the short-term good feeling of being perceived as an expert by your employees. It’s flattering. It’s good for your EGO, good to hear that you are needed and recognised as an expert. However, in the long run you have another monkey on your shoulder.

How can you avoid this upward delegation?

You could just block the conversation with the phrase:

“Do you want me to do your job?”

But this isn’t constructive. It’s frustrating and only leads to your employees feeling that they aren’t getting any support from you.

The solution is: You make an appointment with your employee to discuss the problem indepth:

“Jack, this is not a good time. I am already late for my meeting. But we can talk about it later in my office. Let’s say in half an hour. Is that ok with you?”

You kill two birds with one stone: On the one hand: You don’t let yourself be determined by Jack and you hold back your impulse slipping back into your expert role. On the other hand, you give your employee enough time to think again about his problem. Maybe he’ll find a solution without your help.

3 Tips on upward delegation

Let me give you some help when dealing with “monkey business”.

  1. Every monkey takes time!

Think very carefully about what you commit to. For example: If your employee asks you to participate in some unimportant project meeting because you are the expert. Don’t do it just because you want to please him or please your EGO. Think twice before you do it or before you make such promises. A meeting can quickly cost you several hours. Time you could probably make better use of.

  1. With every monkey comes a supervisor!

If you have accepted the task, very often you have someone who depends on your completion of this task. Therefore, if you take on the task, you become accountable to others. After all, you make a commitment – and it doesn’t matter on which hierarchical level your supervisor stands.

Think about it: If you take back a task then your employee becomes your supervisor. Now he has all the right to ask you:

“Have you finished the task yet?”

  1. A monkey rarely comes alone!

If you take on a task, your employee is rewarded for his or her behavior. He reverse delegated an unpleasant task to his boss. Now, he has more time for himself and is even allowed to supervise his boss according to the motto:

“Boss, have you finished the report yet?”

Oh, great! What’s happening? In the future, the employee will try to give you even more monkeys. That makes sense to him. That’s why I say: Don’t feed your employees’ monkeys!


Try to consistently avoid upward delegation. Not only in your interest but also in the interest of your employees.


The inspiring quote

“Delegating means letting others become the experts and hence the best.”

by Timothy Firnstahl

LME003 – Micromanagement? How to avoid it and get things done.

You may think you are not a micromanager. But believe me, chances are high, that you are – at least sometimes.

But why should you avoid micromanagement? How do you become aware of when you are micromanaging and what can you do to avoid it? We will have answers on all of these – and I’ll give you 5 proven tips on how you can avoid micromanaging.

Listen to the podcast episode

What is micromanagement?

A typical definition is:

“Someone who micromanages is characterised by an exaggerated attention to detail and a detailed specification and control of what needs to be done.”

But what does “exaggerated” mean in this context?  What is meant by “detailed specification and control of what needs to be done”?

When are exact specifications and controls bad and when are they not? Isn’t that all very subjective? Don’t you have to take into account the situation and the skills of the employees?

We’re going to discuss these questions in more detail today, because you can see from the above definition that the evaluation of micromanagement is not so easy.

In my coaching sessions, I’ve worked with executives who told me that they don’t micromanage. However, their employees thought about it quite differently.

Are you a micromanager?

Let’s do a test.

Answer the following 7 questions and count the “Yes” answers. But be honest with yourself!

  • Do you spend more than 80% of your working time on day-to-day operations?
  • Do you believe in the sentence: “Control is better than trust”?
  • Do you have too little time to regularly deal with long-term strategy?
  • Do you feel you are the expert in your field?
  • Do you often ask your employees about the status of projects?
  • Do you always want perfect solutions?
  • If things seem to go wrong, do you sometimes skip hierarchy levels and give instructions over other managers’ heads?

The more questions you answered with “yes”, the greater the probability that you have tendencies towards micromanagement – even if you believe that you are not micromanaging.

Why is micromanagement bad?

Micromanagers have a negative impact on employees, especially on employee motivation. But it’s also harmful for the micromanager himself.

Let’s take a closer look at these negative effects – and first of all at the effects on employees:

If you tell employees exactly what they have to do and if you check their work down to the very last detail, then they lose the fun at work.

Control results, but not the steps towards the result.

It’s ok to control results, but it’s not ok to specify and control every tiny little step towards the results.

If you don’t give your employees at least some freedom to find their own way to get the result and to meet deadlines, then this is highly demotivating and frustrating. Because – whether you like it or not – with such behavior you make it clear to your employees that you don’t trust them and certainly don’t trust their abilities.

The bad thing about this is that over time you train your employees to become dependent. After a while you wonder why your employees don’t seem to have any ideas of their own. Typically the micromanager gets the feeling

“Nothing at all comes from my employees. Creativity? Nothing. They don’t come up with their own ideas. I need to tell them everything. They’re just stupid, need to get told what to do and need to be controlled all the time.”

I’m sorry, but this is your fault with all your micromanagement. I keep saying it:

“After 2 years latest, every manager has exactly the employees he or she deserves.”

Micromanagers also often find it difficult to set priorities.

Everything always seems important and everything always seems urgent.

The employees are confronted with a flood of tasks that they cannot deal with in time. Everything is important and urgent to the manager. He’s not talking about strategy, goals or the big picture but only about small and tiny tasks in detail. The employees cannot classify the significance, importance or urgency of tasks because he’s neither giving this direction nor is he talking about why a task is important.

Why does the manager do this?

Either he doesn’t think he has the time or he doesn’t know his goals and priorities. I don’t care how: It is fatal and leads to frustration, demotivation and excessive demands on employees.

Overload of the micromanager

However, the exaggerated attention to detail and the lack of confidence in others also has negative effects on the micromanager. He believes that he must set the course and control every task and every employee.

This costs time and energy – and that is exactly why the micromanager becomes the bottleneck of his department. Everything needs to be approved by him. Tasks remain lying around because he has not yet checked and released them. He Doesn’t know how to delegate and very often he falls into the trap of upward delegation.

He takes care of every little thing and therefore does not find the time to take care of the really important things. The operational matters are really eating him up. That’s fatal.

Bypass of hierarchy

A particularly critical type of micromanagement is bypassing the hierarchy and undermining your subordinate’s authority. Let me describe it in an example:

Assume you’re the CEO of a small business. Because your business is prospering and you’ve had to hire more and more people, you recently introduced your first managers.

That makes sense, because you can’t manage 30 employees and more on your own. So you have appointed some of your best and most trusted employees as group leaders. One of these employees is now responsible for production as group leader, the other for the development group and one leads the sales group.

The only trouble is: So far, all employees have reported to you. If there were problems or if a decision was needed, whom have the employees asked so far? – Exactly: They asked you.

Just because you’ve now officially appointed group leaders doesn’t mean that your employees will automatically turn to these group leaders for questions and decisions in the future. On the contrary. After all, your employees have become accustomed to addressing you for years. So they’re gonna do the same thing for now.

Who makes decisions?

And now it’s up to you. You are no longer allowed to make all the operational decisions that you made earlier. You delegated some of them and they are now in the hands of your group leaders.

For example – if an employee from production approaches you and asks you how he should proceed with product xyz, you shouldn’t longer decide.

Instead, you should refer him to the production manager, because he is now the decision-maker. It’s his job now. It’s up to him, not to you.

If you don’t do this, you are undermining the authority of your production manager. In the future his employees will no longer take him seriously, because real decisions will still be made by the big boss, who is you.

Then why should the employee ask his group leader if he still can ask you? There is a saying which is on point:

“Talk to the organ grinder, not his monkey.”

You don’t want your employees to think your group leaders are monkeys, do you?

What if a decision is already made?

It gets even worse if your production manager has already made a decision and communicated it to his employees and you now reverse this decision with a small remark to an employee.

“John just asked and I helped him quickly and decided the matter.”

Wrong.  Without probably wanting to, you have undermined the authority of your production manager. If this happens several times, he will no longer be accepted by his employees – and it will be your fault. When in doubt, the employees ask you – the boss and not their group leader.

Perhaps your employees will play you and your production manager off against each other.

“Let’s see who gives me the better choice.”

I’m sure you know that from your parents’ house. If Dad tells me I have to be home by 10:00, I’ll just check with Mom. Maybe she’ll let me stay away until 11:00.

So, if you undermine the authority of your production manager, then he can’t take the burden off you. Because the employees do not accept it and go back to you in case of doubt. This costs you time, nerves and in the long run the production manager will quit his job.

Whoever undermines his subordinate’s hierarchies is micro-managing. Therefore, think about it:

“Micromanagement can even destroy otherwise useful hierarchies.”

Why does someone micromanage?

Mostly it’s not done because of bad intention.

Some micromanagers simply lack self-confidence. They have a strong need for security and predictability. Nothing should go wrong.

But anyone who delegates always takes a certain risk. You never know for sure whether the agreed result will actually be achieved and what will really result when you assign a task to an employee.

It’s the fear of mistakes and the risk that leads to micromanagement. In case of doubt, the micromanager prefers to control too much rather than too little or not delegate the task at all.

Are you the expert?

Then there are the micromanagers who think of themselves as the best at everything anyway. This category primarily includes managers who’ve successfully completed specialist tasks for many years. They are and were experts. But something changed. They were promoted into a managerial position, now they are new as a manager. Now they have to deal with leadership and need to delegate these specialist tasks.

The problem here is:

If I was the best programm coder for years, then it’s naturally difficult for me to hand over the coding when I am now group leader.

Because I am convinced that my employees will not do the job as well as I do. So I specify every detail and I control every step of the implementation. As an expert, the risk of becoming a micro-manager is high! I used to be in the expert’s shoes and know what I’m talking about. I was a micromanager. Listen to episode 001, where I tell you my story about what helped me to get rid of my micromanagement behavior.

5 Tips how to avoid micromanagment

Starting with learning how to delegate and avoiding micromanagement is both an investment in employee training and an investment in yourself becoming a better leader. Yes, it takes time and energy – and mistakes sometimes happen. But it’s worth it. Because you as a manager get time and you get committed employees who work independently and probably exceeding your expectations in the long term

What can you do if you realize that you have tendencies towards micromanagement? How do you manage to resist your impulse to control and specify everything and specify down to the smallest detail? Here are some tips.

Tip 1: Focus on the result not the way to the result.

If you delegate, you control the result, but not the path to it. Talk about goals and priorities, but leave your employees the freedom to find their own ways. If you haven’t done yet, then listen to podcast episode002 on delegating. There, I talk about the 5 levels of delegation. They will help you to find the balance between trust and control depending on the skills of your employee.

If you have delegated a task on a certain delegation level, stick with it and trust the employee. If you don’t and you control more than you agreed, your employee will get the feeling that you think he won’t make it. You’re undermining his confidence. You don’t want that.

Tip 2: Learning from mistakes!

Let your employees learn from their mistakes. If you are an expert in your field, remember that you initially learned a lot through trial and error. Give them at least some kind of freedom to make their own mistakes.

Tip 3: The 80:20 rule!

Always ask yourself: What kind of result do I need? It’s important here: Mostly the best, the optimum result is not needed. It’s about the result that makes sense for the customer or the situation.

In most cases the result is good if you follow the 80:20 rule. With 20% of the time you get an 80% solution. If you want 100%, you have to spend 80% of the time on the remaining 20%. It seldom pays for itself.

I’LL give you an example: Let’s assume that you told your employee to write the minutes of a meeting. How important and decisive is it that the content is correct? Well, I believe we agree that this is very important. Also the correct wording can be decisive. However, whether the formatting is perfect, all rules of correct grammar and spelling are applied and wheather the minutes of meetings adhere to all rules and standards of the companies  corporate identity – all these points aren’t important. However, it can cost you and your employees a lot of time to deal with it. So don’t do it. Don’t waste time on it. Follow the 80:20 rule.

Tip 4: Write your own job description.

Think of the top 3 important things someone in your position should be spending most of his or her time on. And no: It’s surely not controlling your team. Listen to my podcast episode 001. There we talk about on what you should focus as a leader.

Now, write these 3 important things down on a piece of paper. Put it on your desk or stick it on your bathroom mirror. Put it somewhere, where you look at it at least once a day. Then review it daily or even more often. If you do so, this will help you to focus on doing your job correctly and you will recognize more easily, when you micromanage.

Tip 5: Pretend it’s the day before you go on a vacation.

Isn’t it funny? Every time when we have a deadline – like if we are going on vacation tomorrow morning – we are able to finish our tasks shortly before the deadline is due.

Yes, it’s hectic but to get out of the office, you force yourself to focus on the most critical things and on the tasks most likely only you can accomplish.

If you suspect you may be micromanaging then use this strategy. Focus on the tasks closest to you that really require your expertise. The ones only you can do. Don’t be distracted by controlling your employees. Remember: Your plane leaves tomorrow at 8:30 am. There’s no other way for you than to trust that your team has it under control. – And they will.


The inspiring quote

“Authority—when abused through micromanagement, intimidation, or verbal or nonverbal threats—makes people shut down & productivity ceases.”

John Stoker


LME002 – How to delegate successfully and get time for the important things.


Most managers don’t know how to delegate successfully. Why is that?

“The fundamental secret of the art of management is delegation.”

That’s a quote from Cyril Northcote Parkinson. – Is delegating really a secret? Actually, it isn’t. The principles of delegation are simple.

However, many entrepreneurs and managers still find it difficult.

How to delegate successfully is a challenge.

How to delegateSo the secret seems to lie more in how to successfully implement the principles of delegation in practice. Just knowing the principles isn’t enough.

If you delegate a task consider to whom you delegate, how much you must support and control and how much room for flexibility you have to leave – and avoid micromanagement as well as upward delegation by any means. – But what does delegating mean?

Before we go in greater detail, let’s start with the question:

Why doesn’t delegating work very often?

As a manager, you have to make new decisions every day: What’s important and what’s urgent? Which of your tasks can and which of your tasks should you delegate?

A manager has to concentrate on the essentials. But: If you want to concentrate on the essentials, you have to be able to let go. And that’s where many people fail. Many managers know very well what tasks they should delegate. But they don’t do it. If you ask them why, you will often get the following answers:

“I have to do it by myself, because nobody else does it right anyway!”


“Nobody really knows how to do this but me! “


“By the time I explain it to someone, I’ll have done it myself.”


“I don’t have anyone I can trust and who I can hand this over to.”


Let me cut to the chase:

These excuses won’t help you.

Please don’t get me wrong: I believe you, if you tell me that you don’t have the right employee for the job at the moment. I believe that you’re the best at this. But: If you don’t change this now, it will remain so in the future.

How I learned to delegate.

Let me tell you, how I learned to delegate. In my first start-up company we dealt with vibrations on heavy machinery. Just as a doctor uses a stethoscope to assess a person’s heartbeat, we used sensors to analyse the vibrations of gears, pumps and motors. We developed and sold condition monitoring systems, but also performed diagnostics as a service for our customers on site.

Since I had already worked intensively on diagnosing machines for many years before the company was founded, I was usually the one who carried out such diagnoses for our customers. I was the expert at the time.

As our company grew, I had to decide to delegate this task. After all, it was no longer my job as managing director to be knee-deep in oil and to diagnose machines on site. It was difficult for me to accept this change at the beginning – to be honest: I loved to do this work and I loved to be the expert – although I understood that this shouldn’t be my role any longer.

Furthermore, none of my staff seemed good enough to do the analyses as I did. So I micromanaged my employees in the beginning.

But, because I was traveling worldwide to get new clients and to grow our company,  I couldn’t find the time to control and micromanage as I did before.

I just had such a lot of other work on my plate – and I was traveling a lot. So I had to let go and delegate these tasks to my employees – whether I wanted to do it or not.

Let your employees learn.

Of course, in the beginning some things didn’t run so smoothly: My employees analysed differently than I did. They didn’t meet dealines. They weren’t very efficient. They made mistakes that I thought would not have happened to me – but then – after some time, they learned from their mistakes. They improved. After one year, the results of some of my employees were not only as good as mine but even significantly better.

That was fascinating. After this experience it was much easier for me to delegate tasks. I know – if I delegate – that it will probably get worse and take longer – but then there’s a good chance that it will not only be done just as well, but even better.

Delegating is an investment

See it this way: Delegating is an investment in employee training – it costs time and energy in the beginning. But it’s worth it.

Give your employees the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Let them make mistakes. If you delegate a task that you have successfully done in the past, you will probably get a worse result the first time. But that’s only understandable. After all, you’ve been able to learn how to do it for months or years.

Of course, you cannot hand over a difficult task straight to everyone. You can’t just trust that your employee will learn that over time. It doesn’t work that way.

If you want to delegate a task to an employee, you must first assess what experience, what level of knowledge and what skills he or she has for this task. Based on this, you have to specify, control and support to a greater or lesser extent.

But how far do you have to control? How much do you have to specify?

The 5 level of delegation

In order to answer these questions, it is advisable to deal with the 5 levels of delegation. Years ago, I first read about this concept on Michael Hyatt’s blog. I think it’s very useful.

How to delegate successfully

5 levels of delegation

1. Level

I like to call the first level of delegation: “Execute”. Here you specify everything exactly and in detail. You tell your employee to stick exactly to your specifications:

“Do exactly what I asked you to do.”

In this level you have already researched, analysed and decided everything in detail about the task you delegate!

The problem with this level 1 is. You have to control a lot, you need to know the task in detail. You only have very low trust in the abilities of your employee. That might be ok, if a new hire just started working for you knowing nothing about the task you delegate. But you need to make sure that this changes quickly and that your employee will climb to higher delegation levels.

2. Level

In the 2nd level of delegation, your employee already has more degrees of freedom. Delegating on this level means: You tell him to familiarize himself with the topic in general, work out options and then consult with you. This 2nd level is called:

“Research the topic and report back.”

3. Level

In the 3rd level, your employee will work on a topic in detail, develop alternatives and prepare a detailed proposal. He should explain in detail how he intends to carry on in the project. You then decide whether or not to proceed in this way. This 3rd level of delegation is called

“Make a recommendation.”

4. Level

In level 4, the employee makes the decision, but later tells you what and why he’s made the decision. I call this level:

“Decision with reporting back.”

5. Level

The top level – level 5 of delegation, is when your employee makes his or her own decision and you have so much confidence in him that a report isn’t even needed.  This is Stage 5:

“Decide without reporting back.”

How to delegate with the 5 levels

This example is about delegating a development project.

Mike’s in charge of the development department in a medium-sized Engineering company. They develop and manufacture control and regulation systems. Mike’s department got the order to develop the hardware for a new interface module.

Let’s assume that all of his experienced engineers in his department are working on full capacity. The only employee who could support him in this project is Jack. He’s new in the department. Jack has just finished his studies and has no practical experience. He’s a newbie. Therefore, Mike cannot simply assign the project to him, as he would do with an experienced employee.

Level 1 delegation because Jack is a newbie.

That’s why Mike will delegate the project to Jack on delegation level 1.

Mike takes his time to prepare the project in detail. Based on his many years of experience, he selects which processor, which A/D converter and which memory modules must be used. The process is also clear to him.

He knows which development steps have to be completed. Therefore, he writes down the procedure with exact steps and specifications. Now he hands over this documentation to Jack. Jack will stick exactly to the procedure and gradually work through the steps in order to develop the hardware.

In this 1st level, Jack has little scope for decision on this project. After each small step, he reports the progress of the project to Mike and shows him the results.

This is the first stage of the delegation:

“Do exactly what I have asked you to do.”

It’s a matter of sticking exactly to the guidelines, since the supervisor has already researched, analysed and decided everything important in detail. Of course, this takes a lot of time for the manager. The employee is also quickly under-challenged in this procedure. There’s nearly no freedom to make any decisions.

How to delegate on higher levels?

What would it look like if Mike delegates on level 2? Instead of working with exact specifications, Mike asks Jack to take a close look at the customer requirements and familiarize himself with the topic. After that he’s asked to propose the further actions and steps for the development. The decision to take the next steps, however, falls to Mike.

If delegated on the 3rd level Mike gives even more freedom. He asks Jack to familiarize himself with the topic in detail, to develop different alternative procedures, to select the processor, the A/D converters and the memory modules and then to present the results to Mike. Mike will question the results and then gives his OK for the proposed further procedure.

Be careful with corrections.

What’s important here is that if Mike doesn’t agree with Jack’s proposed decisions, he shouldn’t simply tell Jack that he is wrong and correct him:

“Jack, that A/D converter you chose only has 16 bits. This may be in line with customer requirements, but in the long term it will cause us problems. We must also think about future upgrades. Therefore, use the 24 bit converter instead.”

Lead with questions.

Mike shouldn’t propose the alternative. He should ask questions so that Jack can work out the solution himself. For example, if Mike doesn’t agree with the selection of the A/D converter, he might ask:

“Jack, the A/D converter you’re proposing only works at 16 bits. This meets customer requirements, but there are already the new 24 bit A/D converters on the market. I wonder if they might not be a sensible alternative for this project? What speaks for and what speaks against using the 24 bit A/D converter?”

This procedure costs Mike more time. However, it helps Jack to learn, to think and to develop his skills. In the end, Mike wants Jack to be able to assess this kind of situations and decide on his own in the future.

Give even more freedom in level 4

If Jack were already an experienced hardware engineer, Mike could possibly hand over the project to him with much greater decision-making leeway. For instance delegating on level 4: “Decisions with reporting back”.

Then Mike would only arrange 2 or 3 appointments with Jack during the project. On these dates, Jack will briefly present the current status of the project and the decisions he’s taken so far. So, Mike’s informed in detail, but Jack has already made the decisions, for instance which A/D converter’s to be used. It’s Jacks project. Mike will only be informed.

The – let’s say – premium level is the 5th level: “Decide without reporting back”.

Here, Mike has complete confidence in Jack’s abilities and actions. Mike no longer even needs feedback on the achieved project steps. His confidence in Jack is so high that he assumes that Jack will do the work in the best possible way and no control is needed.

The higher the level of delegation, the higher the trust in the employee. The higher the level, the less time the manager has to spend making decisions, controlling, monitoring and supporting the delegated task.

Tell your employees what you expect from them.

It’s important that you as a manager tell your employee upfront, when you delegate a project, what you expect from him. It has to be crystal clear what kind of freedom and authority your employee has to accomplish the delegated project.

Now you know how to delegate, we will talk in the next episode about micro-management. What exactly is it, why should you avoid it and how can you avoid it?


The inspiring quote

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling while they do it.”

Theodore Roosevelt