“Delegate for results, not tasks” is a phrase a colleague of mine uses when
coaching senior leaders. So often leaders come up through the ranks and think
they have mastered delegation, and largely they have. But sometimes leaders,
like all of us, need to consider the impact of our actions. For me, delegation is
both an art and a practice. The practice is the action of delegating responsibil-
ity and authority to individuals and teams and holding them accountable for
results. The art is less definable. It comes into play when you consider to whom
you can delegate (can they handle it?) and when you delegate (should you be
It is in the art that the statement, “Delegate for results, not tasks,” belongs.
This statement is a caution to avoid micromanaging. That is, you describe what
needs doing, but you do not say how it is to be done. It also gives an endpoint,
an outcome, if you will. By focusing on outcome, you get the individual and
colleagues thinking not only what they must do, but why they must do it. In
other words, you challenge them to think strategically and act tactically.
Delegating for results is something that managers can put into practice.
Here are some suggestions on how to do it.
Study the landscape. Before you think long term, you have to know what’s
DELEGATE (AND EXECUTE)
Giving people the authority to do the job
is a vital leadership responsibility.
“A half-baked strategy well-executed will be superior to
that marvelous strategy that isn’t executed very well.”
—ALLAN G ILMOUR, FORD M OTOR C O .
90 / ACT THE PART
going on, inside your own village as well as the village next door. That means
you immerse yourself in the business so that you know the macrotrends (gov-
ernmental, economic, societal) as well as the microtrends (competitors, cus-
tomers) affecting your business. For example, hospital administrators need to
know the dynamics of government-proposed health-care solutions, as well as
managed care and private care options. They also need to know what patients
in their area need as well as what other services hospitals are offering.
Study your people. Know what makes them tick. That means you know how
they think and act as well as what motivates them. Watch them in action and
how they interact with others. Pay attention to how they get results. That is, do
they listen to others, or do they insist on doing everything their own way? When
big projects come up, think about who would be best to head the project. Look
for people who can balance action with consensus. You also want team leaders
who can think on their feet as well as make things happen.
Study the cracks. Problems will occur. When they do, consider in advance
what you will do. A good model to keep in mind is that of the general contrac-
tor who builds a house. His team executes the architectural plans and he
supervises those tasks by keeping a close eye on time, materials, and budget.
When the project hits a roadblock, he knows who to call for each specific
function—carpentry, masonry, plumbing, or electrical. He is not wielding a
hammer or wrench; he’s directing the subcontractor to the task with specific
Not everyone is ready to delegate for results, not tasks. Some people
have not been in a position of authority long enough to know how to think long
term. They are thinking and acting tactically. Likewise, not everyone is ready to
accept the delegation for results directive. They need to be told what to do and
why; they may even need to be told how. These occasions occur in rapidly grow-
ing organizations as well as entrepreneurial ventures; in both instances, people
are feeling their way through things.
Focusing on Execution
Communications plays an essential role in getting things done. So often, lead-
ers issue mandates and think they are done with it. That’s failure number one.