Most of my c-suite clients need to delegate more.  It’s almost always part of our work together because many are preparing for an elevated leadership role or they’ve just landed in one.

Delegation is critical because, in order to assume the more strategic focus of their new roles, to manage the new relationships, to spearhead initiatives, to add the greatest value to their organizations, they need to get out of the weeds and not be on the front lines fighting fires.

And that’s difficult because fighting fires, being a first responder, the one who gets it done, is what’s gotten them elevated in the first place.  It’s where they’ve earned their stripes.  And, most often, they’re really, really good at it.

But I tell them that delegation isn’t the answer.

Controlled delegation, however, is.

And there’s a difference.

What does controlled delegation look like?

It doesn’t mean getting things off your plate in one fell swoop or even immediately.

It means considering the following:

What are the tasks where you are no longer needed but are still doing?  The non-essentials?  Perhaps you’re still attending meetings where a proxy could serve in your place and report back to you.  Or maybe you’re reviewing spreadsheets and reports where a deputy could do so just as effectively.

Where are the greatest time wasters?  The tasks that are non-critical to your role?

And, are you doing old work out of habit rather than value to the organization?  Is there significant responsibility that someone else can take on, now that you’re in a different role?

Once you’ve identified even two or three key tasks or responsibilities that might be delegated, the next question is to whom?  Who can take these on immediately?  Or over time with some additional support?  Would they like the additional responsibility and opportunity?

Next, what are the guardrails and guidelines that you need to put in place?  What are the mile markers, the check-ins, that you want to establish so you can keep an eye on things at significant junctures and be sure that the train is staying on the tracks?  Does the person taking on the new responsibility want additional check-ins with you than those you’ve suggested?  Can they shadow you to see and learn first hand as they assume the new responsibility?

It’s crucial that these guidelines are established so that both parties feel comfortable.  And it’s your job, as the delegator, to have an open door policy for any and all questions.

Next, what are the red flags that you want to establish?  The situations that might arise that require that the person you’re delegating to be in your office or on the phone immediately, informing you of the development?  One of my clients wanted a two month lead time to be notified if a project was not going to meet its anticipated deadline, for example.  What are the circumstances when you absolutely must be called upon?

During the initial phase of delegation, when you’re spending time getting someone up to speed, it can be easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll just do it myself.”  Resist.

What else gets in the way of using controlled delegation with success?  There are three things I consistently see among my clients:

  • The first is the automatic yes. Someone approaches you with a project or initiative, and you say yes because you always have.  You take something on before considering if it fits into your strategic priorities.
  • You haven’t really identified your key strategic priorities and where you add the greatest value, where your time, attention, and focus are most needed.
  • You continue to do what you’re good at and have been rewarded for in the past because it’s familiar and comfortable and you like it. I tell clients all the time to keep as much of what they like in their new role but to rid themselves of the administrative work and oversight.  You want to be sure to stay in front of key clients?    Off load the non-essentials for that account and be available to support the client relationship.

As critical as delegation is to success, by itself, it’s not the answer.  Turning work over to someone without an adequate process in place only results in frustration and likely reinforces that you should hold on tighter.  But practicing controlled delegation, where both parties have invested, where there are guidelines in place, and a safety net for questions and stumbling blocks, ensures a much greater chance for success.

And, as a leader, being able to delegate is essential.  As Glen Tullman, CEO of Livongo Health, says in my new book, Magnificent Leadership: “No matter how many hours you have, you run out of hours when you get to a certain size.”

You can read more about Glen’s leadership journey in Magnificent Leadership, on sale at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Marshall Goldsmith calls it, “A great read for all leaders and leaders-to-be.”

For more on working with me directly, you can reach me at for a mutually exploratory conversation.  I work with CEOs and Fortune 1000 senior executives who are talented, ambitious, and strive to be magnificent leaders.  I’ll have openings beginning in Q2.

I’m keynoting this year at conferences like the American Bankers Association Emerging Leaders Forum, the Association of Legal Administrators, the Association of Financial Professionals, and lots, lots more.  If your national conference, leadership summit, or kickoff meeting calls for a dynamic and inspiring speaker who provides practical, real-world solutions, I’m speaking throughout the country this year on Magnificent Leadership® — Keys to Success.  And I’ve just rolled out a brand new keynote: “Self-Correcting Teams – The Heart of Innovation.”  For booking information:

And if your team or organization needs to focus on what direction and which action, I lead Magnificent Leadership® team sessions with senior executives to create strategic action plans.  For more: