Delegation vs. Laziness: How to Tell the Difference

Being able to delegate—and knowing not only how but when to do so—can be an important part of an employee’s (and manager’s) duties. But the difference between delegation and laziness can appear fuzzy to those who are not inside your mind (i.e. everyone). Luckily, there are a few proactive measures you can take in order to spot each one—and some tips for handling both when they inevitably arise.


Before we dive in, however, it’s important to be clear about the key characteristics that define both in order to get a better picture of what to embrace and what to avoid. Confusion can set in for employees since the two actions share some of the same attributes. For example, delegation and laziness both involve the leader taking a step back and letting employees make certain judgments and complete tasks the leader would otherwise handle.

Effective communication and preparation are what separates the two.

The major differences between delegation and laziness are twofold: Preparing beforehand and following through afterward. When delegating tasks, managers and employees must maintain an active role even though they are not performing those tasks themselves. This includes giving clear instructions during initial conversations, outlining objectives, maintaining effective communication throughout the process, and providing all of the assets the employee may need in order to efficiently and properly perform the assignment. After the project is complete, delegation requires follow-up in the form of feedback on what the employee did well and what could be improved upon.

Laziness (or perceived laziness) can have major consequences.

The negative consequences when employees believe delegation is, in fact, lazy leadership, can reverberate far further than you might imagine. Feeling they’ve been set up to fail or floundering in unclear directives can breed resentment that can lead to losing momentum and drive. In fact, a study done by the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies reports that, without support both before and after delegation, workers “perceive delegation negatively as laissez-faire leadership, or an absence of leadership.” Active communication is probably the biggest difference between delegation and laziness, especially when it comes to the increasingly popular remote work model. If employees believe their coworker or boss is indifferent to the work at hand, they will likely begin to feel the same way, leading to a fruitless and ineffective workplace for all involved.

Opportunities for growth and development.

Leadership developer Lorenzo Flores suggests that instead of simply viewing delegation as handing over an assignment you would normally do yourself, you try to also view it as a chance to develop your coworker’s or employee’s skill set. Development is a much more involved process that “includes encouragement, intent to advance skills or knowledge learning and training, and avenues where the new skill can be applied.”

Sometimes a chore is just a chore.

Of course, development won’t always be possible—sometimes you’re overloaded and just need some help. That’s OK too! The key is not to dress it up as anything more than that. Be honest with your coworker or employee about why you’re handing over the assignment. By maintaining open lines of communication and truthfully acknowledging when a task is (and is not) being given for the advancement of that employee’s professional development, you build a trust between your team that makes for a happier and more productive workplace.

Delegating can be the only way to make sure that all the critical tasks are getting done in an efficient and timely manner. When this inevitably happens, however, it’s important that you relay to your coworkers, boss, and/or employees why the delegation is occurring.

And when the project is done? Follow up! Not just to make sure everything has been completed correctly. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your support (and thankfulness to) the person who executed it.

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