Here’s a statement that is more obvious than we tend to acknowledge: many first-time managers are not very good at managing.

While some of this phenomenon is simply a result of doing something for the first time, new managers often hit a roadblock that is fundamentally different from basic inexperience.

Before becoming a first-time manager, you are primarily judged on your individual contributions or production; your value as an employee is about you and your outputs. This changes when you become a manager, however. Suddenly, you are evaluated less on your own contributions and more on the performance of your team, including how you develop new leaders.

This isn’t just a shift in job description. It’s a mindset shift that requires a fundamental change in behavior and one’s definition of success, which takes time and discipline. Some people even realize it’s a change they don’t want to make.

Because their success is suddenly dependent upon their teams, new managers must quickly learn to delegate. However, new managers tend to struggle with delegation the most, often following a dysfunctional cycle:

  • Stage One: The manager doesn’t delegate and tries to do too much, relying on their individual contributor mindset and leaving their team underutilized.
  • Stage Two: The manager starts to burn out from doing too much and aggressively delegates. Often, they do this without investing time in the upfront work of training others and/or communicating expectations clearly.
  • Stage Three: The work that is delegated is inevitably not done how the manager wants it. As a result, the manager starts to take back the work and responsibilities they delegated. They also declare, privately or publicly, something to the effect of: “See this is why I need to do things myself!”

This cycle stems from two major fallacies about delegation.

The first fallacy is that many new managers expect delegation to immediately make things easier and get frustrated when that is not the case. In reality, delegation usually requires significantly more work at the outset to demonstrate something for someone, teach them how to do it for the first time, and coach them through mistakes. Delegation is about long-term gain, which requires some short-term pain.

The second fallacy is believing that delegation is successful only when something is done exactly how you would have done it yourself. This is setting the bar too high with an unrealistic expectation, as two different people will rarely do something in exactly the same way. Plus, expecting others to do something exactly as you would is a great way to stifle creativity and block the development of new processes.

The solution to these fallacies is the 85 Percent Rule.

This is a concept that I had to learn when I first became a manager that I now consistently share with new leaders at Acceleration Partners. The 85 Percent Rule of Delegation says that effective delegation is when something is done 85 percent how you would have done it yourself, without you having to be involved. Though it’s difficult at first, we are better off considering an 85 percent outcome a win, then addressing the last 15 percent with better instruction and coaching going forward.

Implicit in the 85 Percent Rule is the understanding that good delegation requires more upfront expectation-setting and coaching. You need to make sure others have the information they need to reach that 85 percent standard.

If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to be a great delegator. And if you want to be a great delegator, the 85 Percent Rule is a great place to start.

Quote of The Week

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”


– John C. Maxwell