a manager is delegating tasks to staff

How to Deal with Upward Delegation

Upward delegation is a crisis that any manager would wish to avoid. It’s when a worker tries to evade responsibility by passing it to you instead of solving the problem themselves.

You need to deal with upward delegation before wasting time on matters that aren’t supposed to be your responsibilities.

What is upward delegation?

Upward delegation is when an employee passes back to you their delegated tasks. In other words, you have to resolve tasks that the employee should do on their own.

Most upward delegation cases happen because employees lack the necessary skillset and need help, or they simply lack the confidence to make a decision.

Consequences of upward delegation include:

  • You waste time that could be spent on more important issues.
  • Your workload is heavier.
  • If you have to tackle the same problems over and over, there’ll be too much repeat business.
  • There’ll be delay in problem-solving because staff wait to consult with you first.
  • When employees always wait for you to find out a solution, they become dependent.

Leaders often want to offer help when things get difficult. You might not realize that you’re dealing with upward delegation.

Once you let your employees depend on you instead of motivating them to take initiatives, you’re taking in work that isn’t your responsibility. You’ll become frustrated if upward delegation keeps happening.

How to deal with upward delegation

Establish a closed-door rule

You can consider having a rule of “locked door but open calendar”. If you close your door, team members should know that they can’t disturb you unless there’s an emergency. They have to check your calendar and book a slot for discussing work with you.

By doing this, employees will be more careful when deciding what to talk about. They can’t just come in and throw their responsibilities at you, which means less upward delegation.

Let employees find the solutions themselves

When employees come back to you and upward delegation seems to be on the way, assess the situation with them.

Ask them about what they’ve tried so far to address that problem. Start with questions like “What have you tried?”, “What do you think?”, “What would be your next step?”. This will make them think hard and raise their ideas.

If it’s a truly difficult task, you can give some tips or advice on what employees could try next. But you should, most of the time, encourage employees to be proactive with their own work.

Don’t take on the problem

There are valid occasions when an employee requires your assistance or instruction. But most of the time, the issue isn’t urgent or something employees can resolve on their own.

A simple way to deal with upward delegation is to refuse to take on the problem. If an employee approaches you and asks, “How should I handle this?”, shift back the responsibility to them by asking “What should you do?”. You can help, but don’t say “Let me do it”.

It may take time for employees to develop the habit of thinking things through before coming to you. But if you make it clear that you don’t encourage upward delegation, staff will soon only interrupt you for problems that require your immediate attention.

Sometimes, employees don’t think they have the authority to make their own decisions. So make sure to let them know that they have full control and ownership over their tasks.

Allow mistakes and risks

Lack of confidence and fear of failure are among the reasons that cause upward delegation. Employees may be scared of getting themselves into trouble if they take a risk. So you should allow some room for risks, failures, and mistakes. Encourage them to take a chance, or they’ll be knocking on your door for every little decision that needs to be made.


Everyone benefits from the above approaches on how to deal with upward delegation. Your team’s capabilities are stretched, while you have more time to focus on your work.

Finally, the way your employees solve their tasks reveals their genuine professional character, initiative, and integrity. You’ll be better able to spot people that are eager to learn, grow, make mistakes, and even fail for the greater good and success of your company in the long run.

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