Management Articles


How do I delegate better?

By: Wally Bock

Wally Bock is a former Marine. He helps organizations improve productivity and morale. He is the author of Performance Talk ( He writes the Three Star Leadership blog (, coaches individual managers, and is a popular speaker at meetings and conferences.

Lots of bosses are good at dumping, but not at delegating. They're great at off-loading the things they don't like to do and dropping assignments on their subordinates with little or no guidance.

Other bosses think that delegating is always the best way to assign work. That's not right either. When you've got a competent and willing worker, delegation is the right way to go, but it's not a good choice for workers who aren't as competent or committed.

Delegation is only one among the four basic options you when you ask a subordinate to do a piece of work. Here they are in order from most controlling to least controlling.

Make the decisions about what is to be done and tell folks what to do. I call this style "Tell."

Telling is good for people who may be new to the job and have lots of enthusiasm, but not enough ability yet. It's also the style you'll use with subordinates who've proved through several supervisory interviews that they may have the competence, but they seriously lack willingness. Those are discipline problems and tight control is appropriate.

You can also discuss the work with your subordinate, but make the final decision. This is good for less experienced people who either need instruction or who need their confidence built up. I call this style "Discuss and Tell."

Discuss and Tell is the style that most managers seem to like best and revert to under pressure. It seems like it let's them be both "participative" and in control. But using just Discuss and Tell is a bad idea, especially when you're helping a subordinate grown and develop.

At some point, your subordinate will demonstrate that he or she understands the work that needs to be done. That's the time to use the style I call "Discuss and Allow." With that style you discuss the work with your subordinate, and then let them decide what to do.

Discuss and Allow is the hardest option for most managers because it involves giving up control before they're really sure how competent a subordinate is, but it's essential if your subordinate is going to develop to a point where you can delegate to him or her. Many managers want to jump right over this step and simply assign work. Don't do it.

Part of your job as a manager is developing your people so they're competent enough that you can delegate almost any task to them. That won't happen all at once. To make sure they develop well, you've got to go through Discuss and Allow before you move to the style I call "Allow" or "Delegation."

When you delegate, you give your subordinate the assignment and ask what they need from you. This is true delegation. It's only appropriate for people who have mastered the kind of work to be done and who willingly pitch in.

As you work with people new to the job you'll move through the four styles as they grow and develop. Remember that you use different styles with different people and with the same people on different tasks. You make your decision on what style to use based on your subordinate's ability and willingness to handle the specific work you need to assign.

In my programs, I use the acronym AW, GOSH to help understand how much control to give a subordinate. Here's what those letters stand for.

A stands for ability. Do they have the ability to do the job? If they don't have the skills or resources, then you have either a training or resource issue, not a supervision issue.

W stands for willingness. Do they willingly do work that they've been given? Sometimes we talk about this by saying that a person is "motivated."

The comma (,) is to indicate that the two factors above are the most important ones to consider. The following factors may affect how you handle a specific situation, but they aren't nearly as important as your basic judgment about Ability and Willingness.

G stands for growth. If I let go a bit more, will it help this person grow and be an even better worker in the long term? I've found that most managers are reluctant to relinquish control, so if you're in doubt, give your subordinate more freedom.

O stands for organization. Are there any rules, regulations, or cultural norms that might cause me to modify my original decision?

S stands for situation. If the situation is either physically or psychologically dangerous you may want to retain more control. If it allows for safety and for the person to fail (but not horribly) then you can loosen up a bit.

H stands for "How will this affect others?" Will this set a precedent? Will it be perceived as fair? Does it set a good example? Remember that the people who work for you watch everything you do.

Instead of thinking just about whether you can delegate better, strive to give people the maximum control possible over their work life while helping them grow and assuring that your team is productive. The best way to do this is to use all four styles based on the ability and willingness of your subordinate to do the job.

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© Copyright 2007, Wally Bock

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