With Martin G. Moore

Episode #211

Successful Delegation: Why is it so important?

Most leaders understand the concept of delegation pretty well, but they struggle to execute. There are any number of ways that delegation can go wrong… and even if it doesn’t actually go spectacularly wrong, unless you learn to optimize your delegation approach, you’ll never get the most out of your people.

You’ll always struggle with the massive workload that poor delegation foists upon you, and it will become a bad habit that becomes even more destructive the higher up you go. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be.

In this episode I take you on my career journey through the maze of delegation, and how I learned from my mistakes until I eventually became expert an in every aspect of it:

  • Knowing what to delegate

  • Knowing how to delegate it

  • And knowing how to satisfy myself that the results would be delivered successfully, without micromanaging my people

It saved me from an unsustainable workload, and that feeling of overwhelm that I know so many leaders suffer from.

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Episode #211 Successful Delegation: Why is it so important?

Most leaders understand the concept of delegation pretty well, but then they really struggle to execute. There are any number of ways that delegation can go wrong. And even if it doesn’t go spectacularly wrong, unless you learn to optimize your delegation approach, you’ll never get the most out of the people you are delegating the work to. You’ll always struggle with the massive workload that poor delegation foists upon you, and it’ll become a really bad habit when it doesn’t need to be. Given that this is such a fundamental part of leadership, I’ve decided to dedicate my next free online training session to this subject. 

In the meantime, I want to tell you about my journey through the maze of delegation – how I learned from my mistakes and improved until I became expert in every aspect of delegation: knowing what to delegate, knowing how to delegate it and knowing how to satisfy myself that the results would be delivered successfully without micromanaging my people. It saved me from an unsustainable workload and that feeling of overwhelm that I know so many leaders that I talk to suffer from.

Delegation doesn’t come naturally to anyone, but particularly not to high performers – and it’s especially difficult early on in your leadership career. You want to ensure high quality outcomes. You want to demonstrate your worth or show that your new promotion was justified. You want to have control. As a leader of others, you’re still in the position to have that control, at least to some extent. Of course, as you go up to higher level roles with layers of leaders below you, this becomes less and less the case. So, ironically, although your perfectionist streak may have helped you to win the promotion, it becomes a burden to you over time. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”


When I first started delegating work as a new team leader, I fell into an obvious trap almost immediately, and it quickly became a bad habit. I would delegate the task, but not the accountability – I didn’t extricate myself from the actual work. I’d give my people the right tasks, but then I would hover over them. Maybe not in a micromanaging sort of way, but in a way where I was always there to intervene quickly if a problem or question arose.

I was very inwardly focused on the team and on their individual tasks. I had both the mental capacity and the work ethic to handle this pretty comfortably, so whenever anyone in the team had a question, I was right there to answer it for them. Whenever they had a tough decision to make, I was there to guide them through it – which means I was there to effectively make it for them.

If someone came to me with a problem, I saw it as my opportunity to demonstrate my own knowledge and expertise. I would reveal my elegant solution while they sat and marveled at my brilliance. Hilarious, right!? But it didn’t seem to be the least bit unnatural or problematic. That’s what I thought good leadership was.

Until one day it occurred to me that this wasn’t working the way it should. My epiphany came when the team started to give me some gentle ribbing about my delegation approach. We all got on really well and the dynamic between us was relaxed and friendly, but more than one person started to drop in little jokes at my expense… They were telling me how awesome it was to work for me. Why? Because I solved all their problems and they didn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting themselves.

That hit me like a pie in the face! I was taking accountability for solving their issues and making decisions on their behalf. If something went wrong, it wasn’t their problem – it was mine! I was effectively taking their accountability on and giving them a free ride. So the results from my team were actually really good. I made myself feel good by satisfying my own ego need to show everyone how clever I was. They got to have a good time and work at a fraction of their capacity while still getting the accolades for a job well done – talk about over-functioning for your people!

As a leader of others, this obviously wasn’t fatal. But I worked a lot harder than I needed to, and I didn’t get the best out of my team. I was effectively creating an accountability vacuum for the individuals. I didn’t leverage their talents: instead I took on an inappropriate workload myself, which at the time served my purposes perfectly. But I knew it wasn’t sustainable – this clearly needed to change, and I’m a pretty fast learner, so I worked out how to solve this problem. I then moved onto the second big mistake that I was doomed to repeat for a number of years…


When I became a project manager, I had multiple layers of people below me. By this stage, I’d worked out how to delegate both the task and the accountability, but this didn’t entirely solve my problem. I fell into a habit that I used to call “Management by Gantt chart”.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a Gantt chart is a project management tool. It enables you to specify all the related tasks in a given project, allocate resources to them and map the dependencies between them. I used to make sure I had a comprehensive project schedule that was virtually flawless – on paper. As we know, nothing works in the real world quite the way you imagine it will when you put it on paper.

I was pretty good at delegating by this stage – or so I thought. I assigned work to the right people; I made sure they had the resources they needed to successfully execute on their tasks; their deadlines were reasonable; and I would settle back into ‘tracking the tasks’ mode. I’d help people who came to me to solve their problems, sure. But it was a pretty passive approach.

For a lot of people, this worked really well. Those people were the ones who were competent, confident, and capable. Given the quality of the plan and the clarity of the delegation I gave them, they would’ve delivered no matter what I did from that point on. But because I was divesting myself of any concern for whether or not a task got done properly, I effectively removed any useful oversight from the delegation process. I didn’t inspect the outputs frequently enough to know whether everything was on track or not.

Simply looking at the project milestones wasn’t enough. I was giving ultimate trust to every team member to deliver on their commitments. This is fine for the people with high personal standards for performance, but trust has to come with some level of scrutiny – as Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” And I wasn’t verifying. So, the people who weren’t as driven to deliver often just didn’t.

Now, this was super weird! I couldn’t believe that someone would obviously be going to miss a delivery deadline and not bother to actually say anything to their boss. How naïve was I?! Often a deadline would pass, and I’d follow up with the individual only to hear, “Oh, sorry, Marty. We didn’t get that finished.” Really?! Did it ever occur to you that you might want to tell someone about it? Back in those days though, I was far more tolerant of excuses – there were lots of dogs eating people’s homework.

I understood what the problem was, but even when I tried to resolve it, it took me ages to work out how. I just started tightening the screws on everyone. What did this look like? Well, I set up a weekly project meeting where all the team leaders would sit around a big table in a conference room. I would sit at the head of the table and go around the room to each individual in turn:

“Alright, Chris. Here’s what you committed to delivering last week. Did you deliver it? If not, why not? When will it be delivered? Are you waiting on anything you don’t have control over? If this milestone slips, how does it affect your overall delivery timeline?”

It was kind of brutal, but relatively effective, I guess. But I was reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator. And still there were instances where people tried to hide slippages so that they weren’t embarrassed in the meeting. It’s just human nature, right? And I was still taking people’s word for the fact that something had been completed.

Key learning number two: not everyone’s going to tell you the truth.


One of the biggest problems with both of the approaches I’ve mentioned so far is that I was using a one-size-fits-all approach, and this is never going to get you where you need to go. One was too hands-on, the other was too hands-off. It sounds like there’s going to be a ‘just right’ option coming, doesn’t it? A Goldilocks and the Three Bears solution? But this isn’t a fairytale and there are no easy answers.

I started to think differently about this after being exposed to Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model as part of my MBA studies, which I did about 20 years ago. I found this quite refreshing. The model, in its simplest form, dictates that you should adjust your leadership style based on the maturity and capability of your followers. Of course, every individual’s different, so the capability of the individual dictates how much support, how much encouragement, and how much direction you should give them. Your four rudimentary options are:

  • Telling,

  • Selling,

  • Participating, and

  • Delegating.

Now I was getting somewhere! Stay close to those that need more support, but let my top people roam free.

Once again, there are problems with this approach. While it’s good in theory, when you implement a ‘different approaches for different people’ model, you have to remember one really important thing: at some point, everyone has to be able to perform to a minimum acceptable standard.

So the concept of having to ‘tell’ or ‘sell’ the work program to your people doesn’t cut it in the long-term. It may be required for the most immature or green of your people, but only for a limited amount of time. You need to be looking for them to reach greater levels of independence quickly, so that you can shift your style into participating and fully delegating.

Combined with the right standard, the approach of leading each individual according to their needs and capability is a pretty good rule of thumb. As long as you remember these two things:

  1. The people who you can’t just delegate work to will suck up most of your time because they can’t perform their job independently without your constant input.

  2. You should be spending 80 percent of your time with the top 20 percent of your people. That’s where you’re going to get the real payback in output productivity and value.


As an executive, I had 20 years to refine my process for delegation. With many more layers below me and more leaders at different levels to think about, I became more sophisticated at using delegation principles and tools. I had another big epiphany when I was introduced to the Leadership Pipeline work of Steve Drotter and Ram Charan. This work made it so clear what working at level truly was, and this unlocked some key insights in my head.

I also got more exposure to the way delegation frameworks operate in large organizations. All authority ultimately rests with the board, and the delegation framework dictates what decisions can be made at various levels of management. Often, this is done by granting specific spending limits at different organizational levels and to different roles.

I’ve had roles where I could make decisions with a financial impact of up to $100 million without reference to a CEO or board – but just because I could make a decision of that magnitude, it didn’t necessarily mean I should make it. There are some things that you just don’t want to have turn up in an audit report and have the board blindsided by them. And there are problems with this as well. Because these spending authorities rest with a role rather than with an individual, you have to be careful who you let loose with what. Think of the individual maturity and capability differences that we spoke about in the situational leadership model.

I remember once reviewing a list of delegations after I’d just taken on a new executive role. One of the individuals on the list – who I just happened to know from a previous life – caught my eye. He had the authority to make a spending decision of up to $100,000 based on the role he had. I called his boss in and said, “Look, I know this person, and he’s apparently authorized to spend up to $100,000 of the company’s money, without reference to anyone above him. But knowing him as I do, I wouldn’t trust him to go across the road and buy me a cup of coffee and bring back the correct change!”

Delegation is clearly a difficult skill to master – as you can see from the many missteps I made over the course of my career. But I’m pleased to say that, through bitter experience, I became incredibly good at it. I learned to manage my workload and not lose my sanity, while still delivering exceptional results.

If you want to master the skill of delegation, join my free training: Delegate Your Way To Freedom: How Leaders Can Steer Clear of Excessive Hours and Overwhelm.

You’ll walk away with practical strategies that you can genuinely implement straightaway. There are just two sessions of this training so don’t miss out!



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