Improving Delegation


Delegation: Let’s keep it simple.

  1. Find someone who will accept responsibility for the desired outcome.
  2. Explain that you do not have the time and/or expertise to design the solution.
  3. Ask the person to propose an approach which you have some confidence (not certainty) will succeed with the resources agreed to, e.g., hours, budget, tools, deadline, etc.
  4. Don’t abdicate, delegate: follow-up frequently on progress and impediments to show that you still value the outcome, perhaps using something like my progress report format.

“Give as few orders as possible,” his father Duke Leto had told him… once… long ago. “Once you’ve given orders on a subject, you must always give orders on that subject.”

Dune by Frank Herbert
p. 628 Penguin Publishing Group

Which tasks should you delegate? See this post, 3 Ds of Delegation



Manager: Let Employees Do It



 There’s this tendency to say to people: “I want you to get good results. But I also want to review you along the way, I want you to tell me how you’re getting those results and I want you to review all these processes and everything else.”

And what that does is, it turns experts into novices. The reason is that most expert knowledge is tacit knowledge. In order for me to permit you to use that passive knowledge, I can’t force you to make extremely explicit exactly what you’re doing.

So I need to be clear about what we’re trying to achieve and I need to share that with you; and then I need to let you go do it, and not impose all this monitoring on you along the way.

–Jeffrey Pfeffer
Stanford University
Strategy & Business 3Q1998




Management Wisdom from a Versatile Leader: Condoleezza Rice


 Condoleezza Rice


In the first year or so it wasn’t just about proving how tough I was, I had to be tough. I was pretty sharp with people. But I’d learned in the classroom, the last thing you want to do is put somebody down because then they freeze, and not only do they freeze, but the whole class freezes. I had to relearn that lesson as a manager. … Early on I didn’t know how to delegate things. I was always trying to do other people’s jobs. I learned that first of all, you’ll drive yourself crazy doing that, and secondly you won’t have very good people working for you very long.

I found it useful to remember that most institutions don’t want to change. They’re institutions because they’ve developed a certain set of traditions and norms and expertise, and change is hard. A lot of the work I’d done as an academic affirmed that usually institutions change when they’re failing. It’s very hard to make them change when they’re succeeding. They take the cues too late from the environment.


I found three things helpful.

One is that you have to paint a picture of other times that that institution has responded to change and difficulty successfully.

Secondly, [it helps] if you can find in the institution a counter-narrative that supports the direction of change.

And finally, you have to look to see whether there are impediments to people doing the right thing. Mostly in good organizations, and the Department of State was certainly one, and I found this at Stanford too, people want to do the right thing — they don’t want to be obstructionist — but sometimes there are things that make it hard for them to do the right thing.

— Condoleezza Rice
On being Provost of Stanford University
& Secretary of State
in Harvard Business Review



Do Less & Accomplish More

Leo Tucker

The amount of work I delegate today is far greater than ever. Leaving my people alone has resulted in key increases in our business.

Hire slow, fire fast, and communicate clear expectations of results.

I have been working with Tony as my executive coach since September of 2005.

–Leo Tucker, CEO
The Washington Group

3 Ds of Delegation



One of my CEO coaching groups recently discussed the creation of the President/COO role in their companies. I came up with this alliterative and highly distilled suggestion.

  • Decisions may be:
    • Dictated,
    • Discussed, or
    • Delegated

To help define the duties of your #2, examine the range of decisions you make as head of the company and notice which you will dictate, discuss, or delegate. Core values, for example, are yours to dictate; the COO complies with your decision or leaves. Strategy is something to discuss, create together, and have a healthy back-and-forth conversation about between the CEO and COO. Hiring a sales rep or changing your health care provider are probably best left entirely to the COO; delegate those areas and keep your handsoff.

Also on this blog, Improving Delegation