Laura Petrolino

Task Delegation for Control Freaks: Stop, Drop, Delegate

By: Laura Petrolino | February 6, 2017 | 
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Task Delegation for Control Freaks: STop, Drop, DelegateYou know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?”

Well it also takes a village to teach a control freak task delegation.

Exhibit A: Me.

Luckily there is a wonderful village around me.

From Gini Dietrich, who supports my delegation paranoia through her leadership example and mentorship.

Not to mention the fact she’s been there, done that, and fights the same control freak demons I do.

To my leadership coach, Randy Hall, who gives me the tools to fight my control tendencies, as well as the science behind why it’s important to the success of the organization and the entire team.

My amazing father, who reinforces the lessons and words of both Randy and Gini and gives me case studies in delegation and it’s success in his own career.

And our team who acts proactively and tells me to back the heck off when I overstep my bounds. 

Corina Manea once told me to back off and “stop doing her job.”

Plus many others along the way.

What follows is a guide with some of the lessons I’ve learned from all of these folks, as well as task delegation tactics I’ve found work well for me.

Acceptance is the First Step

Many of us rely on one person the majority of our professional careers: Ourselves.

We take all the responsibility, pick up tasks others overlook or don’t follow through on, “save” team members who don’t do things properly by doing them ourselves, and take on tasks outside of our role because we know they’ll get done that way.

These traits are part of what make us successful in the first place and maybe even helped us get to our current position.

While sometimes frustrated other people don’t carry an equal load, for most of our careers we just assume it’s just our role to take care of everything—and prefer to—because we know we can trust ourselves vs. take the chance on something not being done well.

Do you say any of  the following?

  • It’s just easier if I do it myself.
  • I’m the only one who can get this done properly.
  • There is so much that needs to be done, I just need to take this all on to save time.
  • Everyone’s busy, I’ll just take this on so others don’t need to worry about it.
  • I want to make sure this gets done on time, so better just do it myself.

And similar statements?

If so, please repeat after me:

My name is XX, and I’m a control freak. I struggle to delegate tasks to our team, even though they are capable, and as a result limit the growth of my organization, our team, and my own professional opportunities.

Because while these traits help you succeed early in your career, once you get to a certain point they become your downfall.

Why Task Delegation is Important

One person can’t do everything.

I know, I know…this came as a surprise to me as well.

I mean, what do you mean I can’t do it all?

But (sadly) it’s true.

An organization cannot grow or scale if a handful of individuals do all the work and everyone else just sits around and waits for the “hand me down” work.

Proper task delegation makes an organization more efficient, more successful, and supports professional development.

It also prevents you from insanity and a constant chase after yourself.  

Before I learned to delegate, I found myself frustrated—a lot.

I felt I barely kept my head above water and as a result never did as good of a job as I could or should at any of the tasks on my plate.

Additionally, while caught up in the day-to -day tasks, I lost my vision on the bigger picture strategy.

This meant I missed opportunities and red flags.

You might struggle with some of the same.

Task Delegation 101

So here is how I delegate:

As suggested by Randy, I make three lists:

  1. Tasks only I can do.
  2. Tasks I should do more.
  3. Tasks I should do less.

I take everything on list three and look at our team.

Right away I delegate the tasks that fit into a team member’s role and they can easily take on.

I then create a timeline for tasks I can’t delegate right away, but can transition through training.

WARNING: Humble city here.  You find a lot of the things you thought “only you could do,” other people can do just fine.

The new, more humble me (hahahahah…right…) goes back to list one and moves a few more tasks to list three, then I follow the same protocol above again.

Next I take list two and write them out and put them in a visible place.

Every time I desperately want to just do something on list three, I’d find/replace with list two.

I go through a version of this same protocol quarterly.

Understand Your Control Demons

In theory this all seems pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, theory doesn’t account for human emotions.

It’s important to remember delegation, or lack thereof, is a habit.

We all have triggers that make us revert back to old, negative habits.

To avoid this as much as possible (it’s a process), you must identify those triggers.

For example, my big control trigger is stress.

When stressed or loaded down with deadlines, I want to control everything.

I’m like a little human PacMan who runs around and gobbles up all the tasks.

Because when stress makes me feel out of control, I fight back by trying to take all the control.

This is the least productive thing you can do when you are stressed and under tight deadlines.

Yet that doesn’t stop me.

Figure out your triggers so you can be self-aware when they pop-up and cut those control demons off at the gate.

Task Delegation is a Process

It sounds so easy to delegate, but it’s not.

Be patient—with yourself and those around you.

Don’t give up on people if they don’t do things perfectly right away. Often people don’t step up to the plate because you don’t give them the opportunity to do so.

Task delegation won’t work if you underestimate people and don’t give them the tools they need to succeed. Make sure you don’t set everyone up for failure simply because you refuse to let go of control of tasks better left in someone else’s hands.

What else would you add to the task delegation process?

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks.

  • KensViews

    Great post, @LauraKPetrolino Many of my clients (PR-Marketing executives) have issues with delegation. I tell them “Yes, it is faster for you to do this, rather than delegate it. ONCE. If it’s more than once, you’re not being productive nor effective. I’ll share some of these thoughts with them in the future! PS: Props to @CorinaManea “Back off and let me do my job!”

    • 🙂

      • Yes, this is exactly it! Sure it’s faster….but what do you loss in exchange for that one time speed. It also helped me to shift my goal from “getting things done,” to “coaching others to get things done.”

        That seems simple, but it was a huge and important mind shift for me.

        • KensViews

          Actually that’s a very wise word choice there. If people truly want to delegate and empower, it is indeed a mind shift. And one well worth making!

    • I will admit, when she told me Corina had said that to her, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

      • KensViews

        With Corina and Laura on the Spin Sucks team, I imagine you spend lots of time laughing!

  • Travis Peterson

    @laurakpetrolino a control freak? No way….

    • Yep, I know! It comes as a shock to many!

    • When I read this yesterday, I texted her and said, “Your blog post. OMG.”

  • Kathy A. Graham

    This is so me. Thanks very much for this post. Timely and it hits home. 🙂 I am going to try and take Laura’s advice and see if I can become a better delegator.

    • Let us know how it goes Kathy! It’s a daily struggle for me, but I’m getting there!

  • Carol Ludtke Prigan

    Thanks for pointing out that this is a professional development issue, too. I’ve had to learn that sometimes the best way to help my team learn and grow is to give them the tasks that yes, I can do, but they need to do in order to learn and grow in their positions. I used to think I was carrying the weight so that I would have job security, but now I realize that I’m holding others back (as well as myself) by trying to “do it all.”

    • You are so right! It’s funny, I used to hold on to tasks because I “didn’t want to bother” others with them, but what I learned was instead of “helping” those people, I was making them feel like I didn’t trust them or think they were capable. It’s amazing the way a team changes when you allow them to take ownership in important work.

  • Karen Wilson

    It doesn’t surprise me that you and Gini are like this. I am trying so very hard to control my control freak tendencies with a lot of these same tactics. I think the absolute best one is to have a team around you that will call you out on your tendency to take over everything. It can’t be done. It can’t be done well. And it’s not healthy. Letting go does eventually feel good.

    • Yes, totally agree. You need a capable team who takes ownership and isn’t afraid to say….”nope, step back, I’ll do it.”

      It’s hard, but so rewarding when you stick to it! We should have a Control Freak Anonymous club!

  • This is such a great post, Laura.

    I’m very much guilty of “It’s just easier if I do it myself.” The problem with that is my to-do list is never ending. And yes, we lose focus on the big picture. Plus we lose creativity.

    Oh boy, I was hoping you forgot about that 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the three lists. Very helpful.

  • Bill Clifford

    PetroPower, I needed this article more than ever! Thank you!

    Control = Devil wearing a productivity mask. Control is the death of all businesses, especially when it is at the leadership/executive level. The most impressive businesses I consult with are the ones where leadership says, “I do not want to do X anymore. How can we find a way to take this off my plate?” When I hear phrases like this I know this will be a great client.

    Not only do these changes positively impact your professional development, it also allows you to slow down and enjoy your personal time.

    When you try to do it all, success gets further and further away.

    • paulakiger

      (Full disclosure – Dr. Izzo is a Weaving Influence client) …. Dr John Izzo in his book “The 5 Thieves of Happiness” talks about how our need to control is a “thief” of happiness. I love this story he tells to illustrate the point: “The thief of control makes us like the monkeys of Southeast Asia who were captured at one time by locals through a simple yet cruel trick. Sweets were placed all around a tree, and a coconut was hollowed out, leaving a hole just large enough for a monkey to slip his hand through. Inside was placed a sweet. The other side of the coconut had a bolt that was chained to a tree. When the monkeys came and ate the sweets spread around the tree, one monkey would inevitably pick up the coconut, reach inside, and grab the treat. But the hole was not big enough to get the clenched fist out.

      The monkey would often try desperately to carry off the coconut, but, try as he might, the coconut could never be taken nor the sweet removed from its shell. The only thing the monkey had to do to be free was unclench his fist and let go of the sweet. Yet most monkeys fought until utterly exhausted. The islanders would simply capture the monkey in that exhausted state. The monkey’s undoing was his own attachment and inability to let go.”

    • Yes! Totally. I didn’t include this, but another item on that list was “What do I love to do.” While you are always going to have to do things that you don’t love, prioritizing those you do is important….

  • paulakiger

    So much yes to this post, Laura. I once supervised an employee who then began to be supervised by my peer ……. when I was discussing how the transition was going with my former employee, she said “it’s great working for her because she delegates and we learn.” Quite a (true) wakeup call of a statement.

    • Honestly, I think often we don’t even realize we aren’t delegating until someone points it out to us. Most of us are so used to just “handling it,” that it never crosses our mind.

  • Be still my heart! You just made my job so much easier. Thank you! From now on, I’m just going to say, “Read your blog post.”

  • Bill Dorman

    Surrounding yourself w/ the right team/people helps, but it is hard to not just do it yourself because you can, huh?

  • Great post, it’s all so true! No matter how enlightened you are to this it can still be difficult to delegate. To remedy I adopt the mindset “I can invest one hour of my time training this person to do this task so that further down the line I can save 10 hours not doing a task someone else can do”. That’s normally a good motivator to let go!

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