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What Can Only You Do?

Why new managers need to get serious about delegation

April 29, 2019

There’s a question I ask every new manager I work with: What can only you do?

Remember when you first started working in software as an individual contributor (IC)? How everything was so hard and you didn’t even know what you didn’t know? Welcome back to that space. By moving into management you’ve just switched jobs entirely (and if you just moved to the director or exec level it’s the same story.)

As an IC you had a full time job with lots of stuff you were good at. It’d be really tempting right now to retreat into those familiar places. And it would be doing your team a dis-service. You see any of them can code, talk about architecture, or fix that bug. You’re the only one who’s doing 1:1s, who can focus on career progression, or who has the title to throw around when sorting out issues that are blocking the team.

Those are the types of things only you can do right now. So do them. Give away everything else. Just for three months. You can pick stuff back up then based on what seems the most valuable, but give yourself time to learn your new job first.

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How Giving Away Responsibilities Works

Okay, so you’ve decided to give away responsibilities. How does that work?

Say you want to work with someone else to make a decision or get something to happen. There are a range of options for how involved each of you are in the decision.

  • You could just make the decision with no input, but that’s not terribly good delegation.
  • You can ask for input and then make the decision taking that research into account.
  • You can ask for proposals and then discuss them together and then make a decision.
  • You can ask them to make a decision and then tell you
  • Or they can just do it without even letting you know — total delegation!

When delegating a task sometimes you can jump straight to total delegation, but many tasks will start closer to the top and then move down over time as the other person gains skills and you gain trust in their abilities. In addition it can be extremely useful to let the other person know clearly what type of delegation is happening. (This delegation model Is from Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations — definitely worth a read.)

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Sticky Notes to the Rescue

One exercise I’ve done with new managers is to put every responsibility they think might be theirs (or was theirs in their old role) onto stickies and then figure out who will be responsible for it and at what level of delegation. Then we’ll revisit it weekly as the manager grows so that things aren’t too overwhelming initially, but they end up doing the whole job.

So, what can only you do? What can you delegate today? What can you delegate at a higher level than you’re currently doing? There’s likely something.

About Auth0

Auth0 by Okta takes a modern approach to customer identity and enables organizations to provide secure access to any application, for any user. Auth0 is a highly customizable platform that is as simple as development teams want, and as flexible as they need. Safeguarding billions of login transactions each month, Auth0 delivers convenience, privacy, and security so customers can focus on innovation. For more information, visit

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