The Handoff: Learning to Delegate to Your Executive Assistant

Many executives have been successful, in large part, because of the huge number of important responsibilities, tasks, and projects they were able to take on. In fact, it’s probably that innate ability to do lots of things well that helped those leaders get to where they are today. It’s that very same nature, however, that often makes it difficult for executives to learn how to delegate to their team and, specifically, their assistants. I know many leaders who have stopped using an executive assistant (EA) altogether simply because they couldn’t figure out how to delegate well and make effective use of their EA’s skills and time. That’s a mistake because, I believe, every executive needs an executive assistant.


Executives struggle with what to delegate, how to delegate, and how to let go of the responsibility of a task once it’s been handed off. They don’t know how their EA would handle a specific task or assignment, so that fear prevents them from removing any items from their own plate. That reticence only serves to hold them back and prevent them from reaching goals and achieving new levels of success. Why? Because executives who aren’t delegating tasks are wasting their valuable time. They aren’t prioritizing the tasks and projects that truly require their level of skill and expertise. Put simply: They spread themselves too thin and can’t find the time they need to devote to the work they get paid to do.


The role of an EA is critical and, when understood, is instrumental to an organization’s success. EAs free up time and energy, mitigate stress, and enhance the abilities of executives. The most accomplished executives I’ve met all have incredible executive assistants whom they rely upon heavily for critical tasks and projects. But how do you, as an executive, learn how to delegate effectively? How do you embrace the concept of delegation rather than fight against it? In my experience, very little training is provided to leaders regarding how to delegate, which is odd because it’s a much more complicated process than you might initially think. Learning how to delegate is a fundamental skill that every single leader needs to understand in order to continue to grow and develop. The truth is, efficient delegation takes skill, time, understanding, and practice. Getting it right, though, can mean the difference between a continued upward trajectory and a frustrating stagnation of progress. In this blog, we’ll explore the art, science, and power of delegation.

“Being able to perform a task yourself is powerful, but the issue with doing it yourself EVERY TIME is that you must do it EVERY TIME.”

Avoiding the Traps of Delegation


Why is the topic of delegation wrought with so much emotion and stress? Its very aim is really to eliminate stress, increase productivity, and allow for more space and time to focus on the business’ big-picture goals. In my experience, there are a few common reasons and objections I hear from leaders explaining why they avoid delegating altogether:

  • It takes too much time to train my EA on a task. It’s easier to do it myself. – Yes, it will absolutely take longer initially to train your EA on a new task than it would take to do it yourself. But that short-term focus creates a long-term problem. The time it takes to complete small tasks adds up. Think about a task that you do 1-2 times per day that takes about five minutes to complete. Consider how much time that represents over the course of a week, a month, or a year. It’s HUGE!

“The first time you teach your EA how to do something, it takes ten times longer than if you just did it yourself. The second time it takes eight times longer, the third time five times longer, and your goal is to get to a point where it is significantly more efficient to have your EA do it, and often, the quality is better than if you had done it yourself. This takes intentional effort and direction, founded on the value of the strategic partnership.”

  • I feel like an imposter who doesn’t have the right to tell someone else what to do. – This is a big one, and I often hear it from newly appointed, young leaders. The hesitation to delegate comes from a place of insecurity and a lack of confidence. I see this happen a lot when a young leader is paired with a senior EA. The young leader may feel ill-equipped to pass off tasks and will allow the paralysis imposter syndrome can cause to stifle their growth. This trap can be avoided through professional training and development focused on leadership. It involves a mentality shift and a willingness to embrace the role of leader in a way that’s thoughtful and impactful.


  • I think an EA should only be used for basic tasks, and I should fill the rest of their time with busy work. – Wrong! A stellar executive assistant is capable of so much more than simple tasks. With the right training and development, your EA can and should become your strategic partner, providing you with a dynamite tool that can make you a better, more effective company leader. Too, don’t feel like you need to ensure your EA’s time is filled to the brim with busy work. Encourage them to use “downtime” to expand their knowledge by reading business books, taking an online professional development course, or seeking out a mentor to help them grow. Remember: the more they grow, the more you grow.

“From Joan’s and James’ experiences, it can take as much as 6-12 months of building the foundation for a trusting relationship to develop between an Executive and an EA. From a job perspective, it takes about one year for an EA to see the full cycle of your business and industry, so this is where you want to give some wiggle room. At the 12-month mark, you should have a strong indication that your EA can become a strategic partner in the future. As long as you see an upward trajectory of your EA’s understanding, you are on track and should continue to discuss the path, challenge your EA to grow, and push more critical initiatives to your EA for execution.”

Where to Start

  1. While many elements of effective delegation are complex and nuanced, there are some tasks and projects you may be able to immediately hand off to your assistant. This passing of the torch should serve to gain you early yardage and free up some time you likely desperately need. If you’re not already, consider passing these tasks to your executive assistant NOW:
  2. Acting as your gatekeeper: Your EA can help you protect your valuable time by vetting meeting requests, keeping you focused, and providing you the time you need to get more done. Empower your EA to be your gatekeeper, and you’ll find a significant reduction in distractions and unnecessary demands on your time.
  3. Monitoring your email: Professionals spend several hours every single week on emails, including simple tasks like deleting, organizing, reading, and responding to correspondence. For many executives, some of that time could be significantly reduced by allowing their EA to monitor and maintain their inbox. They can help to flag critical emails and remove FYI and no-action-needed items, thus reducing the amount of time you need to spend on a weekly basis.
  4. Maintaining your calendar: Your EA can schedule appointments, monitor your calendar, and understand your schedule better than you can. If you haven’t already, hand this task off to them immediately. Provide instructions on desired meeting lengths, time between meetings, needed travel time, and reminder preferences, and then allow them to develop a system that works well for you as a team. You’ll find loads of time when you realize you know exactly where you need to be and when you need to be there.
  5. Performing research: Your EA can help tremendously with information-gathering tasks like conducting research on a potential client or competitor, performing due diligence on project management software options, or determining key characteristics for your organization’s target audience. Let them put in the leg work! They can deliver to you a wealth of information that you can then cull down and utilize appropriately. But the act of collecting that initial set of information can save you loads of time, allowing you to focus on more high-level tasks.
  6. Make your travel arrangements: EAs are outstanding at planning and managing work trips. This task can be time-consuming in order to complete all the information needed for various registrations, check-ins, and bookings. Don’t spend your time managing this task! Let your EA know what you need and then pass this task on to them. The longer you work together, the more accustomed they will become to your preferences.
  7. Include them in brainstorming sessions: Your EA can serve as a sounding board, helping to flesh out ideas, give feedback on new initiatives, and identify bottlenecks for potential projects. Their different perspective will help you double your capacity to incorporate more forethought and planning in your workday. Including them will also strengthen your relationship, demonstrate trust, and allow you to learn about unidentified strengths they may have.


Hacks for Effective Delegation

Now that you know which tasks to hand off first, you’re probably eager to understand where to go next. Bigger tasks and projects typically take longer to effectively delegate because you need to ensure your executive assistant understands the why, what, and how.

“It is important for an EA to be aligned with the Executive from a …

  • Messaging perspective.
  • Vision perspective.
  • Goals perspective.

Without that alignment, there is nothing to train to, there is no direction to train for.”

Easier said than done, right? Not to fear. Here are some hacks for delegating critical tasks and projects:

  1. Be sure to clearly define the format you’d like to receive a project in: Don’t make the mistake of assuming your EA knows everything in your head. If you ask them to work on a task or project that requires a deliverable, be clear about what you need to see and how you’d prefer to see it. For example, if they are working on an information-gathering project, let them know that you’d like to receive the results in an Excel spreadsheet that contains specific pieces of information. That will remove the possibility of your EA needing to repeatedly augment a deliverable with additional information they didn’t know you wanted. While this takes more time for you up front, it saves tons of time for both you and your EA on the backend.
  2. Ask them to repeat your instructions back to you: This simple act provides a safety net by allowing your EA to quickly relay back to you their understanding of a task or project and allows you the opportunity to correct or augment as needed. It takes minimal time and can drastically improve communication between the two of you. By gaining a better understanding of common misinterpretations or misunderstandings BEFORE they start working, you also save time and prevent frustration. It’s a win-win!
  3. Try providing instruction via asynchronous learning: If you’re going to handoff a task that requires, for example, several steps within a company’s project management platform, it may be effective to record yourself (via Zoom or other software) performing the tasks, demonstrating where to go, and talking out all steps and special considerations. These don’t have to be polished virtual learning products. They can be quick and dirty recordings of how to accomplish a task or project. These also provide an incredible resource that your EA can refer to over and over again without needing to come and ask you for reminders.
  4. Provide regular, honest feedback: The first time your EA tries a new task or project, it may not go well. That’s okay and isn’t cause to jump ship and yank the task back. Provide thoughtful, candid feedback that’s aimed at addressing any issues with their deliverable. Also, take the time to give positive feedback for a job well done. Convey what they did well and what they could do better next time. Again, this will go a long way towards strengthening your communication and deepening your relationship. It will also improve your delegating skills because you’ll see where your instructions may have been incomplete or difficult to understand.


Now Go, Delegate!

The goals of delegation are to save you time, enhance your power, and create a strategic partnership with your executive assistant. The most accomplished executives all have incredible EAs by their side. Delegation doesn’t come easy, but it is worth it. Remember to take your time and approach delegating tasks and projects with forethought and understanding. You won’t always get it right the first time. That’s okay and doesn’t mean you need to scrap delegation if you hit a bump in the road. The more you stick with it, the more effective a delegator you will become. In turn, you’ll realize higher levels of ROI and enjoy more time to devote to projects that truly require your level of skill and expertise.


Where Do I Go Next?

If you’re ready to take your delegation skills to new heights and embrace the power an executive assistant can bring you, it’s time to expand your library. Written by executives Joan Burge and James Bristow The Executive’s Competitive Edge: Why You Need to Leverage the Talents & Time of an Executive Assistant helps leaders understand how to utilize the power of their executive assistants. They artfully blend best practices with new world techniques, outlining, in great detail, how executives can best approach the critical relationship they must establish with their assistants. A must-read for every executive, leader, and business owner, this robust yet approachable book explains the vital role Executive Assistants play in the modern business world, demonstrating their exponential impact on their executive’s productivity. Loaded with one incredible takeaway after another, business leaders will find this book acts as a critical guide, providing them with the tools and advice they need to find new levels of success. Learn more and get your copy today!

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