The 5 Levels of Delegation You Need to Gain Back Your Time

written by Dan Silvestre
Productivity, Time Management

levels of delegation

If you work in a team, you need to know how to use the 5 levels of delegation.

Here is the truth:

You are not the best at everything you do.

I know that your parents might have told you otherwise, but it is not true.

You stand out on a particular set of skills and tasks. Those are the skills that others pay for and where you can add the most value.

But how many hours do you actually spend using those skills in a normal workweek?

If you are a typical knowledge worker, probably not that much.

That’s because you are trying to do everything by yourself.

You need to start delegating.

Delegating tasks can be frustrating for a simple reason: you have to let go.

You already know you should delegate more, it’s just too hard to do.

But at some point in your career, you will need to delegate more to focus on what you do best. That’s the only way to reach your full potential.

“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

And be careful: delegation is not allocation.

What’s the difference?

Allocation is giving other people work to do.

While delegation is giving other people some of your own work to do. It’s giving them the whole problem to solve and not just a task on its own.

The best way to learn how to delegate is by going over the 5 levels of delegation and mastering each one.

Why Delegation is Hard

The idea of delegating might seem unnatural to you. It means giving up control and trusting others with your work.

There are some reasons that make delegating very hard:

  • You feel that the work won’t get done the right way
  • You’re afraid you’ll be replaceable
  • You don’t know how to assign work
  • It involves managing other people

There’s always that voice in the back of your head saying:

“It’s better if I do it myself”

“It’s easier and faster if I take care of it”

“I don’t trust anyone to do this”

“What if they do it better than me?

But here is the truth:

Delegation is a skill like any other. It requires practice and resources to get good at it.

It involves getting better at managing projects and people.

When you’re a leader or a manager, your focus should be on how your team works rather than how you work.

When you change your mindset towards a team-focused approach, delegating starts to appear inevitable.

Find The Right Person

To delegate efficiently, make sure you choose the right person for the job. They must have all the necessary skills and should be capable of doing the job.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight Eisenhower

To find the right person follow these steps:

  1. Identify the required skillsets for the role
  2. Define an hour and money budget for the task. Given the answers, you may consider an existing team member, hiring a full-time employee, or hiring a freelancer
  3. Identify prospective candidates up for the task. I use Upwork for the majority of my freelance delegation
  4. Interview the candidates if necessary

Pro Tip: When you are hiring, make a practical test simulating the task you are delegating. If I am looking for a video editor, I usually ask for a quick video, for example.

Congrats! You have the right person for the job.

Now, you just need to learn the levels of delegation and you’ll be ready to start letting go.

The 5 Levels of Delegation

As a leader, you need to be clear when delegating. You need to establish what level of authority you are giving out to the other person.

Take some time and make it clear what is it exactly that you want to delegate.

I love a quote every coder knows by heart:

“The best code is no code”

Maybe you are delegating something you aren’t supposed to be doing in the first place.


You might be tempted to delegate your Google Ads responsibilities since is taking too much time a week. But have you looked at the latest results? Have you looked at more effective alternatives?

If you don’t take a few seconds to ask these questions, you will lose tons of money and time later.

When you fail to do this, the person you delegate work to might end up doing more than you wanted. Or she might do less.

On top of that, you need to communicate as clearly as you can. Most of the delegation errors come from bad communication.

Level 1: Do as I Say

levels of delegation - level 1 do as I say

This is the “execute” level.

At this level you give instructions. You’ve done the research and you already know exactly what you want, so you tell the other person to stick to your specifications.

There’s no freedom.

For Example:

You need to update a database with the new client requests every month. Instead of losing hours doing it by yourself, create a checklist with every step of the process. This way, you can delegate the lower value task and free your schedule to more pressing issues.

Level 1 of delegations is best used with new or inexperienced employees.

It is a win-win for both of you. Someone without experience will learn a new task and you will gain back time to focus on what really matters.

The most important aspect of level 1 delegation is clarity.

The instructions need to be straightforward and easy to follow. Doing the task must also allow the other person to learn at the same time, functioning as training as well.

When delegating a task at this level, start by:

  • Defining the task with detail. I recommend you do a checklist with all the steps
  • Explaining what’s the other person’s role in the operation
  • Setting expectations with the employee
  • Setting a deadline (and check-in points if necessary)

When the work is done, review it and add anything if necessary. Feedback is crucial since your team member will not know if they are performing the task correctly.

Once the member gets some experience, you can level up their responsibilities to level 2.

Level 2: Research and Report Back

In the second level, you delegate the research of the topic.

Here is the deal:

You don’t want to waste hours researching what is the best CRM software for your company. You need the information to make a decision, but you don’t need to gather the information yourself.

In this case, you can delegate the Research and ask for a Report.

For example:

Your old accounting software is giving your team problems. It might be wise to upgrade the software provider right now but you are unsure.

Instead of doing all the leg work yourself, delegate the time-consuming research. You’ll only need to decide.

The goal is to research the topic, collect information, and report the findings to the superior. There can be a discussion but the final decision is up to the manager, who will decide and tell the employee what to do.

Research and Report Back level works best with employees familiar with the company, but not quite ready to make decisions.

When delegating a task at this level, start by:

  • Defining the task with detail. What is the problem, where to look for solutions, and how to present the final report
  • Setting expectations with the team member
  • Setting a deadline (and check-in points if necessary)

Review his research and, much like level 1, let him know what you have decided and why. Letting him know your thought process helps him graduate to the next level of delegation.

Level 3: Research and Make a Recommendation

Unlike levels 1 and 2, level 3 encourages a shared process. This level allows input from the employee in the decision-making process.

You are not looking for a regular report:

You are looking for actionable recommendations.

This means researching, outlining options, and making the best recommendations possible with pros and cons. The employee should be able to advise on what he believes to be the best option. If you agree with it, you can give him the green light to proceed.

This is the natural evolution of level 2.

At this level, you are not only training them to make a task. You are training their critical thinking and teaching them how the decision-making process works.

The experience gathering data will make your team member more capable of creating recommendations of their own.

When delegating a task at this level, start by:

  • Defining the task with detail. What are the constraints they have to think about? What type of solution are you looking for?
  • Setting expectations with the employee
  • Setting a deadline (and check-in points if necessary)

Review the work, approve it, and supervise the implementation. You should still let them know what you’ve decided and how you came to that decision, but now they will be the ones implementing the plan (with supervision).

Level 4: Decide and Inform

levels of delegation - Decide and Inform

In level 4, the employee makes the decision by himself and then informs you.

The mindset behind this level is simple:

“Make the best decision you can, based on your research, but keep me updated at all times”.

This is the gold standard of delegation.

Reaching this level of delegation is a game-changer for your productivity. You will have the time to focus on the tasks that move the needle.

But giving this level of freedom also brings some drawbacks.

You first need to build trust. You need to know they can handle the first 3 levels of delegation and that you trust their judgment.

Additionally, it will be difficult to manage egos when you disagree with a decision made, especially when it goes wrong.

For example:

The ad campaign you delegated is tanking. It should be bringing double the costumers that it is bringing.

You are now in a difficult position: Do you interfere and take care of the decisions once again? Or do you trust the person you delegated the task to?

Employees will sometimes make mistakes, and you need to be okay with it. Trust is a two-way street and you need to be confident in your judgment.

That is why when you are delegating at this level, you need to start by:

  • Defining the task with detail
  • Telling the team member you trust them to make decisions
  • Letting them know you’re available for any advice and support should they need it, but in the end, they should be independent
  • Defining the situations where you will take over

Level 5: Act Independently

In level 5 there’s total freedom.

At this level, there’s no need to report back. There’s room to make whatever decision they think is appropriate. There’s complete trust.

This is best for responsibilities that are not very important or that you are not best suited for.

For example:

You are spending 10 hours a week on customer service. But you are really good at product development, so customer service is not the best allocation of your time. Your results will improve if you focus only on the product side of the business.

In this case, it makes sense to delegate the customer service responsibility completely.

This level of delegation usually means a new job role. The team member is responsible for all the steps of his area of responsibility.

When delegating at this level, start by:

  • Defining the goals and milestones
  • Letting the employee know you trust him with all the steps and that there’s no need to update you on a daily basis

Not having constant reports does not mean the total loss of control. Continue to check-in regularly to see if there are any issues to be dealt with.

How to Stay Organized at Work

Staying organized while delegating can be challenging.

You will have to be engaged with your work, as well as with the output you are delegating.

And the more team members you get working with you, the harder it is to stay organized at work.

To make sure you are on top of everything, you need to follow this 3-step process:

  1. Start With Goals, Tasks, and Time. Create your work environment around your goals and priorities. Then, organize your tasks based on these goals. Finally, organize your schedule so that you can be more efficient while doing these tasks
  2. Organize Your Physical and Digital Files. Make sure every file you need to work is well organized. Ensure that the same for the files your team members need to perform the tasks you delegated
  3. Follow up with team members regularly. Set up meetings and feedback sessions to make sure everything is working properly. Additionally, you would also gain a lot by doing an individual weekly review.

The more organized you are, the more apt you are to make changes and resolve problems. This will save you lots of headaches down the road.

Tags:: Leadership

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