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Many managers think they can delegate tasks with quick, brief instructions. It doesn’t work that way.

We're told that the key to lightening our burden at work and being successful is to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others. But all too often we find the delegation goes awry. On the Dumb Little Man blog, consultant Bill Zipp offers warning signs to indicate when you are delegating poorly, including:

Delegating too much at once

Often, we wait until we are overwhelmed to delegate, and then we throw things over to others too rapidly. Mr Zipp describes it as a "drive-by shooting," but "the problem is [that], like a drive-by shooting, an employee doesn't feel empowered to act, but assaulted with a list of things to do that gets added to their already long list. And your delegated tasks go to the bottom of that list, not likely to get done any time soon." Instead, be strategic in your delegation, planning ahead and giving adequate time for the task to be handled.

Expecting people to read your mind

We also mess up when we aren't clear about what we want done. The handoff is vague and brief: "Hey, Amanda, can you handle X for me." It's not clear what the task actually entails. Because the recipient is probably not a mind reader, trouble will occur.

Not giving a due date

If you don't give a due date for the delegated task, it will go to the bottom of the person's lengthy to-do list.

Not following through

Delegating tasks doesn't end when they're handed off. You need to follow through, or people will not believe you're really concerned about the task being completed. "Even if it's a five-minute progress report. This kind of accountability sends a powerful message that you're a leader focused on action and will help your people fulfill their best intentions," he writes.

Delegating to the wrong person

Sometimes the first person you see is the person you hand the assignment to. But that person may not be the best person for the task, and may well be the worst.

Viewing delegation as an event

Mr. Zipp says that the biggest challenge with his clients when it comes to delegating is that they see it as a one-time event. But that's actually dumping. Delegation is a process. It starts by realizing you are doing too much. The next step should involve having the other person watch you do the task. Then you do it together. Then the person does it, and you watch, giving appropriate feedback. Now delegation is complete, and the person can handle it alone.

Not changing leadership style

Your leadership style must change through the various steps in the delegation process, starting off with more direction, instruction and demonstration to becoming more collaborative and, finally, to overseeing loosely.

Not explaining the why

If you explain why something needs to be done – tying it to the bigger picture for your company or your unit – you will arouse emotional intent, so the person is not simply going through the motions or avoiding going through the motions.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter