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The 5 steps of delegation


Delegation is an art, not a science, but there are some concrete steps you can take.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the tech company he co-founded more than two decades earlier was on the brink of failure. Apple's sales had plummeted by 30 percent and Microsoft was now the dominant computer company in the market.

Jobs got to work reducing the number of Apple products by 70 percent, and the rest is history. What he learned was simple and became one of his most well-known quotes: "Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do."

He’s right. Trying to do everything is a recipe for disaster. And while this was a principle that he applied to Apple’s products it can also most certainly apply to one’s leadership style. Successful leaders know they must delegate.

Related article: The right way to talk to employees

Understanding delegation

Delegation is an art - not a science. You can’t put a number on it or simply tell someone that they need to delegate 30 percent of what they currently do. Delegation needs to be defined for each individual. When we advise dentists in executive coaching leadership programs, one of the areas that we focus on is slimming down the responsibilities handled by the dentist. And that means delegation.

The first question that should be asked is whether or not a doctor needs to perform this task. We recently counseled a client to write down every non-clinical task that was performed in the practice. We kept a log for approximately two weeks and in that time we were able to determine that 22 percent of the tasks did not have to be performed by the doctor. This included answering questions that the team could easily have answered but still continued to ask the doctor. They were trained to bring everything to him, which led to wasted time and high stress.

The five steps of delegation

Once you’ve identified the tasks that need to be delegated, you must clearly communicate them to the team so they know exactly what to do. If you follow the five steps of delegation below, you will be able to effectively communicate with your team.

  • Define the task. In many cases, team members aren’t exactly sure what they should take on or even where to start. By giving a clear definition of the task, you have a far better opportunity for success.

  • Explain the expected result. Once you’ve defined the task, clarify the result you want from it. Otherwise, team members will define the desired result in their own way and you’ll be frustrated that the task was not completed as you expected. This leads to taking tasks back - which is a classic mistake in the art of delegation.

Related article: The biggest mistakes dentists make: Not delegating to team members

  • Set up “check-in” steps. Some tasks are very easy to complete and you don’t need to check in or follow up, but others have multiple components. Setting up “check-in” steps for the dentist or office manager creates an opportunity to determine if the task is on target or needs correction.  

  • Review the result. Evaluate whether the result has been achieved. When results are properly achieved, the dentist should compliment the staff member on a job well done. When results aren’t as expected, the dentist should go over how things went wrong and how the team member can make changes.

  • Ask for feedback at the end. Instead of going to the team member for feedback throughout the task, ask for feedback at the end. Too much feedback means the delegated task is slowly being given back to the doctor. Asking for feedback at the end of the task provides the opportunity for teachable moments.

When we help practices implement the five steps of delegation, it can initially be uncomfortable. When the team members ask questions that doctors feel could be easily answered by them the response is, “That’s a good question. What do you think?”  It does not take long for staff to realize that it is better to make a decision on their own rather than wasting time and energy by asking the doctor.

Related article: How to deal with lazy employees


Delegation is a great solution for helping busy dentists and a fantastic way to build motivation and responsibility in your team, but only if it’s handled properly. Use these five steps of delegation to help move tasks off your plate and make them the responsibility of your team members.

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