The First Question to Ask After You Delegate

Short posting today. This is such a simple idea that I wish I’d learned it years ago. I’ve started asking my clients this question, and it even seems to work with my teenage daughter.

After you’ve decided how to delegate, and you’ve asked the person you’re delegating to set their deadline, a great way to close the delegation is to ask:

How would you like me to hold you accountable if you can’t meet your deadline?

See how that works? Now go try it.

Question for the Comments

What happens when you ask people how they want to be held to their commitments?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

The First Question to Ask Before You Delegate
Four Different Ways to Delegate
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good For Them

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not doing anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with


The First Question to Ask Before You Delegate

There are two important questions you should consider when you’re delegating a task. Especially if it’s beyond the level of “Take action, don’t report” type. Two questions that will improve the probability of success. But asking the questions isn’t enough. How we react to the answers, and how well we follow through have the greatest impact.

The first question is:

When Can You Get This Done By?

It’s a pretty straight-forward question, and you might think I’m kidding. There are times when it’s appropriate to arbitrarily set deadlines. In reality most work isn’t life or death. And one of the biggest motivators for even rudimentary cognitive work is autonomy. The ability to govern oneself.

Many times the most productive action bosses can take is to get out of the way. Let the people working for us do what they do well. Let them figure out how to do the work instead of being treated like a cog in the machine. Maybe they don’t do it exactly the way you could, and that’s OK. It will still get done.

So when you ask this question or any question please, actually ask a question, and then have enough intestinal fortitude to respect the answer.

Actually Ask A Question

“I need you to do this.” is not a question. It doesn’t even have a question mark at the end. Yet that’s often how tasks are assigned. How much autonomy are we granting the person assigned the task when we do this? None.

If you really ask a question, use a sentence with a question mark at the end. Can you do this? and When can you do this by? are both examples of actual questions. If you need the work done by a specific date, then ask “Can you do this by Tuesday?” (or whatever the date is).

Asking puts the responsibility for completion with the delegate, increases their commitment to the task, builds a relationship, and allows them to develop their priority management skills independently. All things good managers who are committed to developing their staff will want.

And don’t worry that it will diminish your status. It won’t. Treating people like cogs in the machine will.

Respect the Answer

A wise sergeant once told me to never give an order I knew wouldn’t be obeyed. I say never ask a question that you don’t want to hear the answer to. You may have to negotiate, re-balance workload, or ask questions about priorities. And you may not like some of the answers.

Yet your job as a manager is to deal with reality, not react to the pressures put on you and pass them down. If you’re not going to manage the priorities put on you and your staff, then you’re not really needed, are you?

One of my clients called this being “a window”, just trickling down the directives and orders from on high. He’s the regional manager for a recruiting and placement firm. Last week they had no new starts in all of Western Canada, which was a huge under-performance for him and for the region. His CEO asked him “How can a region your size have no new starts in a month?”, a question for which there is no good answer.

Yet he didn’t start banging the table and  demand that people start producing. I’ve seen leaders who know better, cave under the pressure and threaten their staff with the boogey-man of “heads are going to roll” and their boss being “not happy”. And really what does anybody at the front line of an organization care if the CEO is happy or not, even if she knew what to do about it?

He has a plan for measuring, coaching, and increasing performance across the entire region, and he’s sticking to it. He’s putting the right people in place, he’s showing confidence in his staff, and they’re working their tails off for them.  He’s leading, not letting himself be buffaloed into a knee-jerk reaction.

Question for the Comments

How have you handled push-back to your delegations in the past? What do you do when somebody tells you they can’t and won’t do the work you’d like them to do?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

Four Different Ways to Delegate
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good For Them
You Need to Get Good At This to be a Leader

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not doing anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

Four Different Ways to Delegate

El Campesino leading the troops into the battle in BruneteDelegation is important, delegation is underutilized, and delegation doesn’t need to be complicated. If you can learn to successfully delegate, you’ll have added an important tool to your leadership toolkit.

Not everything has to be delegated in the same way. Nor does it need to be complicated, but you probably should take some time, even just 30 seconds, to decide how to delegate.

Consider these four “levels” of delegation, and which is appropriate to the task and the ability of the delegate.

Level 1: Take Action, Don’t Report

Some tasks don’t need a lot of detail, explanation, or even tracking. You trust the person assigned the task, or they’ve done the task successfully in the past. She can to act independently. If that’s the case, just go ahead and delegate.

My daughters raises rabbits in our back yard. Reminding her to feed her bunnies is an example of “fire and forget” delegation.

Level 2: Take Action, Report When Done

Either you want to ensure the task is done, or the task requires coordination with others. Be prepared to follow-up if and when the deadline passes. If they’re not responsible, and can’t or won’t do what they said they were going to do, that’s on them. If you don’t hold them accountable for it, that’s on you.

Cleaning out the bunny cage on a regular basis – a dirty, unloved chore – requires follow-up and even inspection to ensure compliance.

Level 3: Recommend Action, Get Approval

We want the delegate to do the research, make a decision, and recommend an action. They may either then be tasked with that action or not.

At this level we really start to see some of the “development” benefits of delegating. As a rule of thumb, if you believe the person you have in mind for this task can do 70% of the work, then go ahead and use them. They’ll need mentoring, coaching, and support, but that will be part of your delegation plan (more on that later).

We had a late season litter of five kits show up a couple of weeks ago. Surprise! The next local bunny and chicken auction (where all this started all those years ago, and where we could sell them at a good margin) isn’t until spring. We had to come up with other options. Listing them on Kijiji, selling them to local pet stores, or getting a second hutch and holding out for a bigger profit at the spring auction were some of the choices she considered.

Level 4: Analyse Different Options

This is appropriate for an especially complicated, challenging, or risky task. It’s also a huge opportunity to get insight into and shape the thinking of the person delegated to. At this level you are explicitly reserving the right to decide which option, if any, to choose. You may also decide to focus on researching and analyzing more thoroughly the most promising options after the initial report.

Since Nichole (the daughter) might be moving out to go to college next fall, we have to start planning for what we’re going to do with the rabbits. You can imagine I have a vested interested in managing this transition, otherwise I’ll be stuck with shovelling bunny poop while she’s away.

Anybody interested in taking over a viable bunny raising business? Hutch included.

Question for the Comments: What is the next steps in your team or organization when somebody fails to deliver what they promised? How does your company hold people accountable?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Learning By Doing
You Need to Get Good At This to be a Leader
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good For Them

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not doing anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

Why Delegating Work to Your Staff Is Good For Them

I believe delegation saves leaders and their organization time & money in the long run. But what about the poor, put-upon, over-worked, under-paid employee? Well, turns out it’s good for them too.

I’m assuming of course that your staff wants to get better. That they want to gain mastery of their skills so they can come to work every day and do their best. That they want the autonomy that comes with being trusted and having a good track record. That they are mostly willing to prove themselves and have the evidence that they are trust-worthy, dependable, valuable to the company. They may even want to prove they are ready to be promoted.

Otherwise we need to have a different conversation about hiring the right people.

This is what good delegation does. It’s not about getting the tasks you don’t like doing off your desk. Although there is something to be said for finding somebody that enjoys and does well those things that you don’t. If we’re honest, we can’t be good at everything. It’s important we focus on the things we are good at.

It teaches them to prioritize their work, plan their day, and make them more effective. But what of the work that doesn’t get done? Some things might get delegated “to the floor”. Bonus points if they stop doing low or no-value activities because they’re busier with high-value (to the company) work.

This is part of your role. To help your people work out what they need to delegate to their own staff (if they have any), or not do it at all. If and you and your team are not getting the most important things done first, then you probably aren’t getting the most important things done.

Wouldn’t you rather get the least important things not done? I can hear the screams: “No Bernie! We have to get everything done!” Well, that’s not going to happen. So let’s deal with reality instead.

Question for the Comments: What’s your worst or best experience being delegated to?

Other Delegation Articles You Might Be Interested In:
You Need to Get Good At This To Be a Good Leader
Outstanding Entrepreneurs Do This Well
What Is Accountability?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

You Need To Get Good At This To Be A Good Leader

Please don’t run away when I say this word. It’s something you need to learn to do if you hope to be a good leader:


I know, I know, it’s not very sexy. It’s one of those over-used words like “accountability” and ” engagement” that’s lost a lot of its meaning. But it’s shorter and sounds better than saying: “getting other people to do your work”.

So why do “they” say you can’t be a good leader and advance in your company or grow your business without learning how to delegate? Well, because they’re right, and here’s why.

  1. It saves you time (in the long run).
  2. It saves the company time
  3. It saves the company money
  4. It’s good for your staff (development wise)
  5. It’s good for the company (leadership succession wise)
  6. It gets you promoted

Today I’d like to tackle the first three:

Delegation Saves You Time

Teaching, training, coaching, and correcting somebody else’s work takes more time than just doing it. In the short-term. But if you invest the time in the long run you’ll be saving time, like this:

It’s hard to do, especially at first when you have the least time to spare. Your can choose to stay in the same job forever because you’re the only one that can do it, or take the long slow journey to the bottom of the ocean drowning in work. Short term pain, long-term gain.

What should you do with your new found breathing room? Up to you, but I do know that “not enough time” is the biggest complaint among many of my clients, so use it wisely, and keep delegating.

Delegation Saves the Company Time

Yes, sometimes it’s faster doing it (whatever “it” is) yourself. Problem is that we end up doing all the “its” ourselves. So then we become the bottle-neck. Which means people are literally lined up out our door. Yes, I’ve had consulting clients complain about exactly this. Not only don’t we get our own work done, neither does anybody else. Which means that part of operations, sales, or finance grinds to a halt.

So while you’re getting stuff done faster and being the hero, the company as a whole is suffering and opportunities are missed. Turns out doing it yourself is actually kinda selfish.

Delegation Saves the Company Money

It stands to reason that work done by somebody reporting to you costs less than if you do it. Assuming they do it to a reasonable standard in a reasonable amount of time. This save the company money. Which is kind of your job as a boss: to get the work done as effectively and efficiently as possible.

If you’re keeping work that can reasonably be done by somebody who gets paid less, then why isn’t it being done that way? Otherwise you’re deliberately wasting the company’s money (and your time). Stop that please.

Next Time: How delegation is good for you, the company, and gets you promoted.

Question for the Comments: What can you delegate today that will save you time or the company money in the long run?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Why Delegating to Your Staff is Good for Them
Learning By Doing

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

Learning By Doing

Tommy trips over a guy lineI was doing some strategic planning with a long-term client last week. They’re doing well, expanding their business in tough times, making the hard decisions about staff, and being leaders. They’re the kind of business I love working with because they run with what they decide. Which has translated into some fantastic cultural and business changes for them in the last year.

We landed priorities for the next quarter, and it came time to assign champions for each one. First pass: the CEO ended up as the champion for all three. So I asked her:

“Are you the best person to do all of these, or are you absolutely the only person that can do these?”

Often the leader is the best person to be accountable for any strategic given initiative. They’ve got the experience, the training, the track record. That’s why they’re the leader. They could do the best job. It doesn’t mean they’re they should.

Mine Mine Mine

I’ve seen this often enough now: the leader takes all the important initiatives, leaving nothing for anybody else to do (strategically leastways). The consequences?

  • They’ve just sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Why aren’t my managers engaged? Because you won’t let them be.
  • They’ve just become the bottleneck, and will often fail at everything instead of giving themselves the chance to be successful at one thing
  • They’ve not focused on the most important thing a CEO has influence over: the values and culture of the business.
  • They’ve lost an opportunity to identify and mentor possible successors

Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, had several very simple principles of developing leadership in young men and women. One of them was:

Learning by Doing

He believed that the best way for young men and women to learn leadership was to lead a small group of their peers. That’s why the patrol system (6-8 boys or girls organized as a small team that do their planning, camping, cooking, etc. together) is so powerful. They can learn all the things they need to in a mostly safe environment, where feedback is immediate and honest, and mistakes are easily forgiven.

The fastest way to squash the enthusiasm of a patrol of Scouts is to start micro-managing them. Adults, especially if they have their own children in the program, get in there and start “fixing” things before they even go wrong. The kids don’t learn anything, the adult becomes over-whelmed and frustrated trying to keep up, and Scouts start drifting away to other troops or even out of the program.

Adults do the same thing. They’re just a little more subtle about it. Sometimes.

So here’s my recommendation:

Delegate Like Crazy

Delegation is hard, because we’re often prone to believe we’re the best person to do any particular task or lead a specific initiative. We might even be right, we are the person that could do that job the best. But we’re not the only one who could.

Stick to the jobs that only you can do, and delegate everything else. It’s a huge opportunity to develop your staff and the culture of your team / division / group / company. Which is your single biggest responsibility (after turning a profit).

You are now the leader of leaders. It doesn’t matter if it’s a snotty twelve-year-old boy who hasn’t changed his underwear in three days, or an executive vice-president. Develop them!

Don’t know how to delegate? Learn. In the age of the internet, business and executive coaching, and self-help books there’s no excuse! Never done it before? Start small and work your way up.

There’s no way to get the most out of your team or get to the top of your profession without delegating. You may be very good at your job, but that’s the only thing you’ll ever be doing if you don’t learn to develop relationships and leadership in the people who work for you.

Learn delegating by doing it.

Question for the Comments: What do you have on your desk or to-do list right now that you could give away, or not even do?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Manager Tools – The Art of Delegation (podcast)
Delegation on Amazon
Why I Suck and Delegating (and Why You Might Too) (blog)

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

Why You Suck at Delegating

Delegating is a skill that outstanding managers are good at. It’s a skill that can be developed. What do you delegate, and are you doing it right?

Remember, there are few things more annoying that being asked to do something, and five minutes later being asked if you did it.

Why I Suck at Delegating (and Why You Might Too) from Kent Fenwick at Kent’s Posterous