top of page
  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Do You Have A Problem Delegating?

"Don't be a bottleneck. If a matter is not a decision for the President or you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it." Donald Rumsfeld

"Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results." George S. Patton

Why is it so hard for people to delegate?

As technology continues to advance and reporting becomes better, the output of people’s efforts is more measurable and there is much greater transparency. The logical reaction to this shifting reality should be greater flexibility in how the work gets done by focusing on results.

This should be particularly noticeable in Project Management. As governance is refined, the Project Manager works with the Subject Matter Experts to determine all aspects of the project. What work will be done, how it will be measured, how much it should cost, how long it will take and how to report any variance are all prescribed. Given this structure the technical people should be free to do their work!

And yet I see the opposite.

There is a bias against distributed decision making, and that leads to an environment where even minor decisions are elevated. That is tragic because the expertise is at the technical level.

I blame this, partially, on the increased focus on Risk Management at the institutional level.

There have been many high-profile failures in both the public and private sector, and the inevitable reaction is to do a post mortem of the event to determine “how this could happen!” The story is almost always the same: “There were warning signs and it could have been prevented if the proper steps were taken”. The inevitable reaction is to codify stringent reporting and put in place “risk management practices”.

Which misses the point.

Who identified the “warning signs”? The Subject Matter Experts! Who ignored their counsel? Management!

The solution is to elevate decision making to the same people who ignored expert advice in the first place?


Years ago, when I did a lot of executive coaching, I would warn people of a condition I described as RES, or Rookie Executive Syndrome! RES presented as an overwhelming desire to add value to everything and a belief that only they knew the right way to do things! I still see a lot of that!

I personally delegate almost everything. As an executive, it is my responsibility to provide strategic direction, resources and (most importantly) shelter from the corporate craziness that we all must deal with. Your team needs to believe in you and you need to help them be successful.

But you don’t need to do their job!

The key is to have clear expectations and structure, then get out of the way and let your high performing team perform! You are the coach, not the player!

In over 15 years as an executive, I can only recall a couple of times where things didn’t work out and I had to intervene. That isn’t to say that people did things the way I would have necessarily done it, but I don’t have all the answers anyway!

Be a coach and trust your team to do their jobs. You will all be happier.


This notion of “delegation” really has its roots in the Enlightenment Period. Prior to that, almost every aspect of how you lived your life was determined by who could apply enough brute force (or the threat of such) where you lived. It didn’t matter if the persons power came through lineage, conquest or position, the “average” person had very little ability to change the station to which they were born to. The Enlightenment used science to focus on the legitimate source of power and ultimately led to the belief that every individual was endowed with certain natural rights that deserved respect. The impact of this philosophy was profound, and the best way to govern with this knowledge is still seen in the political debates of the day. Is it more important to respect the will of the individual or focus on the greater good? Even the most despotic rulers feel compelled to claim that what they do is for “the people”. I personally believe that collective impact of millions of people making rational choices based on their enlightened self- interest is a much better model than a small group of masterminds in a distant city deciding for them.


bottom of page