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

Start With the “Why?”

You must inspire people to drive business executionDan Pink argues that three surprising things motivate people: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. In business execution, I argue, you need to start with the purpose.

That’s what I wrote for this month’s article at – You must inspire people to drive business execution. Check it out and let me know what you think?

Question for the Comments:
What is your purpose for working or running a business, beside just making money? How do you inspire people?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Why Are You Hiding Your Values
Deep Survival: Business Lessons From the Wild
What Do You Want to Be the Leader Of?

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 Are You Hiding Your Values?

I was in Rogers on Tuesday (they’re a local  cell phone service provider), on the 29th anniversary of my engagement to my bride, trying to get her a phone upgrade.  I thought it would be a simple process, and a nice gesture on our “asking” day.

Silly me. Three hours later we walked out with a new phone, bitter and disappointed at the service we received from Rogers. The only reason I didn’t switch was because the clerk couldn’t get through to her own customer service to cancel my contract, and I didn’t want to spent my entire anniversary waiting for this to get sorted out. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today.

While waiting I noticed the Roger’s one-page strategic plan lying on the counter. It seems I’ve inherited my grandmother’s faculty for reading upside-down. At least somewhat.

That skill had something to do with why she spent a few years living in Argentina after the war. There’s also something about her burning her then-dead German husband’s papers on the roof of the apartment in Switzerland under cover of doing laundry before fleeing. That’s also another story.

I asked the clerk if I could take a look at her company’s values, and she said no. She hid it furtively. As if she’d been caught doing something wrong.

This puzzles me. If a company is going to go through all the time and effort of discovering a set of expected behaviours for the company, then why can’t its customers see it? Are they embarrassed? Are they afraid that customers will laugh? In Roger’s case, given my treatment by them that night, that might realistic.

I began wondering how many other companies have values that they’re not willing to share with their customers, suppliers, and partners. Are they afraid to be held accountable to them? If you set out values and expected behaviour for everybody in your company, and you know that that’s not who your company really is, then I might understand your reticence.

I challenge you to publish your values. I dare you to make a public commitment. Commitment that is necessary for accountability and results. If you’re not willing to make that commitment, maybe you need to go back to your executive retreat and have another think.

If it turns out you don’t have any values, besides just making money, which I doubt, then don’t make something up. You’re not fooling anybody. Share who you are as a company, and be willing to be held to it. Otherwise the public will make up its own stories about why you behave the way you behave, or treat them the way you do.

Then make sure there’s a way for your clients, staff, suppliers to tell you when you are – and aren’t – living up to them. Listen. They’re already talking about you anyway. If you’re not hearing them it’s because you’re not listening.

If you’re not willing to fire employees behaviour that  consistently violate your core values, or you’re not willing to fix internal systems that consistently violate your customers humanity (such as making a phone upgrade a byzantine, three-hour gauntlet of bizarre rules and contractual obligations that require approval from an unreachable customer service representative in some overwhelmed call centre), then don’t waste your time.

There is a direct line between integrity and execution. If you don’t understand the this linkage between vision and engagement, values and execution, purpose and urgency, then stop wasting your time. Don’t waste it on “values” and “strategy” if you’re not going to follow through, or are doing it only because all the other “good” corporations are doing it.

That’s how I got started smoking – because the “cool” kids were doing it. It took me more than 29 years to quit and permanently damaged my health. But that’s another story.

My Own Personal Values

For the record, here are my own personal values:

  1. I will keep my word
  2. I will not lie, steal, cheat, hate, nor tolerate those who do.
  3. I will leave this world better than I found it.
  4. I will deal with reality, and face my fears. The only easy day was yesterday.
  5. Family first and last

When Blind-Spots Surprise Us

Katherine Spitzer first woman to run the Boston Marathon 1967

The universe is conspiring against me. Well, not really against. It’s conspiring on my behalf to take me to the next adjacent possibility. It’s tapped me on the forehead and made clear that I need to step up my game, especially about how I speak about women. Please let me explain.

Last week I was listening to a ManagerTools podcast on ethics, where two former West Pointers and now successful consultants were talking about the code of ethics they adopted at the academy:

“I will not lie, steal, cheat, nor tolerate those who do”.

With events in popular culture, the news, and politics, I decided to adopt a new personal honour code:

“I will not lie, steal, cheat, hate, nor tolerate those who do.”

Then I realized this week, while working with a woman CEO of a construction company, twice I used the term “girl” to describe an adult woman. Doh! Seems I have some work to do. I don’t think I do this maliciously, or trying to control others. At least that isn’t my intent, but I realize now it will sure come across that way.

I don’t want to be just another guy talking about women in the workplace. So how do I link my purported values to my behaviour? How does what I believe translate to how I am in the world. How are my words and action perceived by and impact others?

This is the work I do with business owners every day – how do we translate how we want to impact the world into everyday actions that take the company in the right direction? What is really going on? It often comes down to doing the basics well and consistently. In my case, dropping the use of “girl” to refer to adult women. Small changes often make the biggest difference. Especially when they allow us to make bigger changes.

Then I ran across an articles about  Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. That’s her in the picture above running the first time 45 year ago this April. One of her cadre is body-checking a race official attempting to throw her out of “his” race. Katherine ran the race herself. Nobody carried her. That’s what she wanted, I imagine: the opportunity to run, to test herself, to do her best. Just like most of us.

It’s not enough to just give somebody an opportunity, job, or place, then stand by and watch them fail. In order to be leaders, in order for management to be a force for positive change in the world, sometimes we have to get up off our asses and run interference. Call bullies on their bullying. Deliberately solicit every opinion. Not tolerate poor behaviour. Let others lead. Which is what leaders are supposed to be doing when we’re “building teams”.

So I’m going to watch my language better, do some more volunteer one-on-one mentoring, and try to figure out how deep this blind-spot of mine goes. My little circle to start with. It will be interesting to see where this goes. Researching and writing this article has only made me realize how far I might have to go.

Who’s with me? What are you going to do to “lead”? What’s your blind spot?


How Your Body Language Is Hurting You

Imagine the following unfolding in a boardroom: the CEO is holding his head in his hands, both palms covering his entire face. The person reporting to him is leaning back in his chair, ankle on knee, hands behind his back. The subordinate seems to be totally oblivious to the CEO. Even without hearing the words being spoken, what conclusions can you draw from this scenario?

My perception of the message was: “To hell with all of you. I didn’t meet the commitments I made. I don’t care, and there’s nothing you’re going to do about it.” Without intending to, and totally undermining his own credibility and long-standing relationships.

Was this his intended message? No. He works in a high-stress, highly volatile, deadline driven world. He’s good at what he does. I assume he wants to see the company succeed and grow. So why the subtle (or not so subtle) but loud message that contradicts this?

When I asked him, he told me “that’s how I think”. Pretty much the opposite of what other people were getting.

Bottom Line:

Watch your own body language, how it effects others around you, and what message they might be getting from you.

Try This:
Be aware of your body language and how it affects the people around you for the next week. What did you learn? What changes do you think you might need to make?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Body Language Basics for Dates and Job Interviews
How Science Can Teach You to Spot a Liar
How To Build Relationships Without Talking

Deep Survival: Business Lessons From the Wild

What does survival in the wild, my recent computer woes, and running a business have in common?

My blogging vacation was a little longer than expected because of a hard-drive failure. I’ve just finished rebuilding my third drive (and operating system) in the last six months.

But I did have time to do some non-business reading. This year I chose “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why“. I admit it’s a little weird  that my idea of a relaxing read includes people being dropped in the jungle  from 28,000′ wearing high-heels and a dress, surviving 60 days in a raft with a broken water purification system, or the analysis of a mountain climbing accident that kills a dozen people.

Darn-it if I didn’t see some parallels between those life & death situations and strategic business planning and execution. Those that didn’t just lie down, give up and die had some common characteristics:

They Accept Reality

Survivors were quick to accept  their situation and deal with the here and now. They did not waste time and energy railing against the gods, grieving, or crying about what should have been. They figured out where they were, what resources they had, and what they needed to do next to live another hour.

They Have Something Bigger to Live For

All survivors who went through grueling physical, emotional, and mental anguish to live and escape their situation (like walking down off a Andes mountain with a shattered knee bone poking through their pants) had a powerful motivation to keep themselves alive. Usually it was a child, spouse, or loved one that kept them going.

If your business does not have a higher purpose other than just making you money, then how do you get other people to care about it as much as you do?

They Are Disciplined

Survivors are incredibly disciplined. Whether is was drinking only a litre of water a day on the high seas in an open raft, or simply taking the next physical step down the mountain or through the jungle, they gave themselves a cadence by which to govern themselves.

What’s the rhythm of your business? Do you have the discipline to get things done? Do you regularly follow through on commitments?

They Have Focus

Survivors often have to just wait, saving their energy for a burst of activity when it’s needed the most. They don’t waste their energy (or time) pursuing activities that don’t directly benefit their main goal: staying alive.

This is similar to Covey’s “big rocks first” principle. Often I see clients let day after day slip by chasing the latest fire in their business, when what they said they needed to do was spend time making sure those fires didn’t happen in the first place. What are your big rocks, and how much time do you spend on them?

They Adjust Their Plan

Survivors don’t just slavishly follow a presumably good plan when circumstances change. They are prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they come along, or adjust their plan when fate throws a coconut or avalanche at their head.

What’s your plan and how often do you review it?

They Listen to the Experts

What does all this have to do with my computer? I could have avoided some of my recent technical grief if I’d taken the advice given at the end of the book about how not to get into a life-and-death situation in the first place:

My technical guy tried to tell my that a faulty voltage regulator was frying my hard-drives. Had I heard him I would have been able to choose the time of buying a new lap-top. I didn’t want to hear him because it didn’t fit into my model of the world (not wanting to spend the cash right now).

You are good at what you do. You might even be the expert. You’re not good at everything. Get the right advice from the right people, and listen to them.

They Have a Plan B

. . . or sometimes even a plan C if the possible failure is critical enough. What are you going to do if your plan A fails?

In my case Plan B was to recover my files from the old hard drive, something I’ve successfully done a couple of times before. Plan C was to use the on-line backup service to recover my file. It would take a bit longer as long as the backup service didn’t corrupt my files . . . Oops! Three weeks later and I’m just getting back to scratch. Without a plan C I still wouldn’t be able to do the accounts, invoice my clients, or pay my taxes.

Now I have a plan D as well – a backup to an external hard-drive on my desk.

. . . and for those of you who enjoy adventure reading, I highly recommend “Deep Survival: Who Live, Who Dies, and Why

Question for the Comments: 

Has your business career had a “near death” experience? What did you have to do to survive?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
What Does Your Reality Look Like?
When “Big Rocks First” Fails
What Do Rituals Have To Do With Business?

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

Fire the Creeps and Bums

Fire the Creeps and Bums

Firing a non-productive or anti-social (in the destructive sense) member of a team actually increases the team’s productivity by 30 to 40%. That means that on a team size of 4, productivity will stay the same or get better even if you don’t replace them,  Yet your payroll drops by a quarter.

On a larger team then you’re making money by getting rid of the bully / degenerate  because of the bump to productivity. If they’re at the managerial or executive level your return on investment is even higher. The higher up in an organization the greater their impact, positive or negative.

Cost of a Bad Hire

If that doesn’t convince you then consider the cost of make a bad hire, or keeping them around. It starts at five times their annual salary and goes up from there, depending on their impact within the organization. Up to 27 times.

Too many leaders are afraid to replace, move, or let go somebody they know needs it. Perhaps they’re in a key position. Perhaps they’re a family member (tough one for sure). Perhaps they’re a loyal, long-term employee whose performance has dropped in recent years.

So decide now what’s best for the business and all the people in it. If you can’t do what’s right, maybe the problem is you.

Let the Facts Judge Them

I like John Spence’s approach as outlined in his book “Awesomely Simple“. You’ll need four sheets of paper: On the first one have thee employee write  what they believe is expected of them. It’s important that expectations are clear and agreed, and that they have agreed deadlines.

On the second they write what they need (training, staff, support, equipment) to accomplish what they’ve committed to. On the third what their reward should be if they accomplish their goals. On the fourth, what they believe the consequences of failure should be.

The key to this approach is regular (weekly) face-to-face review. Regular review is where accountability happens. We don’t need to judge our employees. Presenting the facts will do that for us.

What Took You So Long?

A common reaction when they finally do get asked to leave? “What took you so long?” Everybody else knows what needs to be done. Why don’t you?

What’s the hardest fire you’ve had to make? Do you have somebody you need to let go but just keep putting it off? Let us know in the comments.

To Touch or Not To Touch

I recently got an e-mail from a former co-worker and current friend, who asked:

Do you think managers should be more ‘touchy-feely’? Here is a pretty interesting collection of studies, summaries that have looked at the power of non-sexual touch.


Hi Gord,

I’ve done a little experiment since you sent this link to me. I’ve reached out and touched some of my clients at the end of our sessions – usually a full open palm on the back, shoulder, or arm. It’s had mixed results. Some seem to welcome the touch. They know that we’re connecting and supporting each other. Others seem to tolerate it, or wonder what I’m up to. I’m not a touchy-feely guy by nature, so my first advice would be:

It Depends

Some people will welcome it and need it. It’s reassuring for them. For others it’s threatening and unwelcome. Likewise unconsciously pulling away from somebody with whom you’re trying to build a relationship, and who reaches out to you, is counter-productive. So my second piece of advice would be:

Watch Carefully

Watch carefully how they react and watch carefully how you react. It comes back to being mindful of what’s happening around you. For those of us who are task/doing oriented versus people oriented this is a conscious effort.

I’m not saying you should start working the room and back-slapping it that’s not your nature (or stop if it is). It might be as simple as not making a face when somebody shakes our hand for a little too long (or noticing when somebody is being uncomfortable with your too-long-for-them handshake).

If you’re more people oriented remember, not wanting to be touched doesn’t mean we don’t like you. Your enthusiastic approach to life is great, but there are some out there who might misinterpret your intentions.

Be Sincere

So if you’re trying to fake sincerity, and if you do you’re going to get busted, you’ll be harming the relationship. If somebody suspect on a subconscious level that you’re hamming it up just to influence them, even if that isn’t your intention, the trust you’re trying to gain will be lost instead. You’re better off keeping your hands to yourself (if that’s who you really are) than coming across as awkward and fake.

The opposite is also true – if you’re an outgoing person by nature, being stiff and formal will be odd, and people will notice. Like a tie that doesn’t match your suit. Better not to wear the tie than to try to fit in.

If you’re Bill Clinton or Tony Robbins, this advice doesn’t apply to you. Influences of that skill and depth have their own personal reality-distortion fields. If you’re not, don’t try and fake it.

In order to influence people, we have to make them feel comfortable and safe. So my last piece of advice is:

Pay Attention

Adjust your behaviour to your audience. Drucker said “Communication is what the listener does.” In this case it means learning to adjust our style on a moment-by-moment basis to the people we’re with and the situation we’re in. Nothing tells somebody we care as much as paying attention to them. There are no cookie-cutter solutions when it comes to people. You want to influence them? Pay attention.

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

Working in Small Teams

What is the right size for your team? Is your organization too flat and the team too big? Can your company become too big?

Vladimir Lenin once said

“Quantity has a quality all its own.”

He was talking about guns and tanks, of course, but it holds true for people too. Adding somebody to a team doesn’t just increment the complexity  and communication within that team by 1, it increases it by the size of the team plus one. For example, if there are two people working together, there is 1 path for communication. Three people, 3 paths (an increase of 2). Four people, 6 ways to communicate (and mis-communicate). Five people, 10 ways and so on.

One More Makes All the Difference

By adding one more person, pretty soon the number of relationships to keep track of becomes very crowded. One of the principle of Scouting laid down by it’s founder was “working in small groups”. He knew from his previous experience that both adults and youth work best in groups of about eight or so.

Years later research came up with the “seven plus or minus two rule“*, which tells us that our brains can hold about seven pieces of information, or deal with seven people (give or take) at the same time. More than that, and we start to lose track of what’s going on.

In Real Life

As a Scout leader I had the unique opportunity to observe the affect of adding or removing and individual Scout to or from a patrol. Just by changing one person the dynamic of the group changed entirely. An energetic, disruptive kid would make the patrol energetic too. Not always a bad thing mind you.

Now, in my work as a consultant I work with many executive teams that come in different sizes and configurations. I’ve noticed that when there are three or fewer people in the room the interaction, conversation, challenging ideas just don’t take off with any energy. At nine or more it starts to break down again. People don’t get heard, one or two people  dominate the conversation, there’s just too much going on to capture it all in a meaningful way. The ideal number of thinking, contributing, energetic people in a room has an upper and a lower limit.

Your Actions

Are your teams the “right” size for your organization? Are you trying to get too much done by stuffing as many people into the room as possible, and therefore slowing things down and falling into the trap of a false economy? Or are you trying to “keep people focused” by making your team too small, and then losing out by excluding people them instead of getting them engaged and switched on?

*Later research showed that short-term memory capacity is probably closer to four “chunks” rather than seven.

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

What Employees Want

The want to belong, be safe, and be appreciated. Too simple. Sometimes the best ideas are.

John Spence: The Three Keys to Employee Engagement

Also about employee engagement:
Back to Work Without Trust – how the employee/employer contract has changed and what to do about it
Critical Conversations – the consequences of not having the courage to confront mediocre performance
Mean Girls in the Workplace – focusing on things we can see and hear takes personality out of confronting toxic behaviour