5 Levels of effective delegation for managers


“How do you work in your business and on your business?” I get asked this question often as I’ve been building my own business. What I’ve found is that many people know they should be delegating, but have no idea how to actually do it.

In my career managing team from a single employee up to 80 people, I’ve found a few things that work (and many that don’t). Two quick notes before we jump into the model.

  1. Realize delegation isn’t just on/off. Delegation is a continuum. From “Not delegated” all the way to “I don’t even need to think about this anymore”.
  2. Misalignment is a common, but painful problem at work. Most issues with delegation come when an employee and their manager aren’t on the same page.

Here’s a model I’ve found helpful for delegating that enables leaders + employees to align and do more work that matters without friction.

5 Levels of Delegation

1. Do what I say

2. Research

3. Approve

4. Report Back

5. Delegated

Level 1: Do what I say

This is when a leader tells someone exactly what to do. This is required when someone is just starting out. This isn’t great when it becomes ongoing micromanagement. It’s not scalable.

That said, this is a good place to start as a leader. If you can’t tell someone how to do something, you likely don’t know how to do it (or haven’t experimented enough to find out what works consistently)

Level 2: Research

This is getting a task to go learn about something and come back and share what you found. No decision-making enabled yet but can be very helpful to a leader who needs to get information for a decision.

Level 3: Approve

This is the most common delegation level. Go make a decision, but I have to give a before you move forward. This comes in a lot of flavors from very top-down to fairly light approval.

Level 4: Report Back

This is where things really start cooking. Go research, make a decision, move forward, and then let me know when you did. This is a good place with a lot of autonomy.

Level 5: Delegated

This is full delegation, where even reporting back isn’t necessary. Full trust is extended to handle the decision, situation, or task at hand.

Becoming aware of this model is a good first step. Once you know where you’re at with various parts of your job, think about how you could change.

Questions for leaders:

  • How do you delegate?
  • Where are each of your employees with various tasks?
  • Are you giving enough direction when needed?
  • Are you giving enough autonomy when needed?

Questions for individual contributors:

  • How do you uplevel?
  • Could you go from a researcher to seeking approval? (one of the places you can control the most)
  • Are you on the same page as your leader about what level is expected from you?

Delegation is painful when the leader and the employee aren’t on the same page. 

When a leader expects level 4 and the employee thinks level 2 is all that’s needed, that’s going to be hard. Visa versa is true as well.

Knowing how to delegate turns someone from working in their business to really building a business. The best leaders are masters of delegation and can focus on deciding what work needs to happen vs doing the work.

Learning how to delegate, especially to executive admins, is one clear way for leaders to unlock massive gains in their own productivity. If you’re making over $50/hr, you should be delegating lower-level tasks out ($10-$20/hr tasks).

I’ve personally gained 15+ hours each week by delegating things to my executive admin (research tasks, content prep for social media, hr admin work …) and my children (household chores, encouraging them to take more ownership of their education + hobbies).

What have you found works well for delegating?


Ryan Seamons writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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