What Are The Seven Keys For You To Effectively Delegate?

"This came in from somewhere. Could you send it somewhere else?"

I read a really great book called, "The Fish That The Whale."  The book is about the life of entrepreneur Sam Zemurray.  The book is a great and entertaining read, and it is packed with lessons for entrepreneurs.

Zemurray, also known as "Sam, the Banana Man," was the founder and CEO of Cuyamel Fruit Company and then he later became CEO of the United Fruit Company. If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “Banana Republic” comes from, you can thank Sam.

Zemurray made his fortune in the banana industry rising from the bottom all the way to the top.

There's a great story in the book that holds true to the dilemma of trusting your employees.  It starts with Zemurray selling Cuyamel to United Fruit in 1930 in a stock swap.

Zemurray then saw the value of his shares drop from $100/share to $10/share due to United Fruit's mismanagement.  United Fruit's management was located in Boston while the banana plantations were located primarily in Central America.

United Fruit's management wouldn't listen to the requests of the managers they hired to run things in Central America.  Zemurray, when he heard this, said to United Fruit's management, "Let the manager make a decision if you trust him.  Fire him and find someone you trust if you don't."


The issue you face regarding delegation is always one of trust.  You have to trust your people.


If you don’t, you should fire them like Zemarray said years ago.

  • Yes, sometimes your people are going to make different decisions than you will.
  • Yes, sometimes your people are not going to do as well as you will. But…

The key is to let your managers grow because your company will fail if you don't.   Here’s how:


Delegation done right: delegating the right things to the right people.


There is no one size fits all rule for successfully delegating. I wish there was.

However, there are some really good pieces of advice you can use as a guide:


A.  Know your team.


Successful delegation involves knowing who can stretch, where they can stretch, and how much bandwidth they have to stretch. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team members is the key.


B.  Hold onto the responsibilities only you can do or should do.


The great thing about successfully delegating is it allows you to do what you and only you can do best.

For example, I held onto the strategic marketing responsibilities when I started my company because I was the only person capable of doing the job. It would have been a huge mistake to delegate that responsibility to someone else.


C.  Be really careful delegating tasks that could make or break the company.


I have a friend who is working at a company where the CEO is delegating closing a key deal to someone not capable of closing the deal.

Worse yet, the CEO knows this person is likely to fail!

Delegating a life or death of the company decision to someone would also be an obvious mistake. There are some decisions and tasks that you need to make regardless of how much you have to do.


D.  Audit the progress.


You can’t just wash your hands of the task just because you delegated the task. Successful delegation involves checking in and providing the necessary guidance and coaching.

Depending upon the task I’ve delegated, I might check in every week to make sure everything is on track. During check-ins I will ask for an update on the progress. And, I will ask if there are any questions I can answer.

But sometimes you have to…


E.  Let your employees fail.


I am not saying you want to destroy someone’s career. I am saying that sometimes the best way to learn is through failure. It’s a delicate balance.

One of the hardest things to do is stay quiet when you can see someone is likely going down the wrong path. But, just like with your kids, sometimes it’s better in the long run to let an employee fail.



F.  Step in before an employee breaks something catastrophic.


Let’s say you delegate a make or break task.   You have an obligation to the company and the employee to step in sooner rather than later.

You are often better off giving more guidance than needed and a make-or-break situation is just that time.

You need to closely audit progress to ensure success. This might mean daily meetings.

You might even need to take over responsibility for the task again. That’s a large reason why I don’t like delegating make or break tasks. Not only can you screw up the company, you can also potentially screw up someone’s career.


G.  Encourage your employees to ask for help.


Many people think they can’t ask for help when you delegate a task.

You need to work really hard to create an environment where asking for help is seen as a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.

Asking for help does not mean employees should ask you to solve the problem for them. Asking for help does mean the employee has tried to solve the problem, can tell you the ideas they have already tried, and the employee is coming to you at an appropriate time in the process.

This means the employee needs to ask for help before it is too late. In other words, encourage employees to ask for help before the situation becomes too difficult to save.

That’s what’s called a Hobson’s choice. A Hobson’s choice is named after Thomas Hobson.

Hobson owned a stable in late 16th century England. Hobson gave his customers the choice of only one horse to ride despite having 40 horses in his stable.

A Hobson’s choice in business sucks.


A CEO that delegates correctly will have a very motivated and productive team.


The beautiful thing about delegating correctly is that delegation acts as your true exponential multiplier. You not only get more done when you effectively delegate to your team, but your team will get more done too.

Plus your team is taking on more and more higher levels of responsibility, so you are freed up to do more at a strategic level for your company. Then the cycle continues because your senior managers delegate more to their staff, so they are also freed up to do more at a strategic level.


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