Feedback from two clients, which one fits your situation?

“I am not the best delegator and really need to improve to be more effective.”

“It is very frustrating to get a project from her. Her direction is unclear and I have to keep going back for more guidance. Then once I have it figured out, she gets more involved and gives me all kinds of direction.”

Delegation, the act of passing down the responsibility of a task to another individual. A very common and expected practice in the business world. Leaders cannot do it all so they delegate their responsibility to have others complete particular tasks. Leaders who do it well free up their time and simultaneously develop subordinates.

When to delegate? Leaders delegate for three general reasons, 1) they do not have time to complete a task, 2) they do not have the required skill to complete the task well, or 3) to develop subordinates’ skills. Sometimes the reason is for one or all of the above. If you are weak at this skill, you and your workers are regularly frustrated.

I believe there are only two main elements to delegation, the reason you delegate and how you delegate. The typical reasons for delegating were listed above; time, skill, or development. What do I mean by “how” a person delegates? I separate “how” into two broad categories. You are generally a “means” or “ends” delegator.

If you are a “means” delegator you delegate by directing others how the task should be performed. This is the task and do it this way.

If you are an “ends” delegator you delegate by directing what you want the end state to look like. This is the task and this is what it should look like when you are done.

Why is this important? Think of the last task delegated to you? Did the direction have more “means” than “ends”? How did that impact on you?

Every task we delegate has some mix of “ends” and “means”, but tips in one direction.  An example: You delegate the creation of a presentation to show the annual growth of your department. Your directions: to present the data so our growth is clear, you are limited to 6 slides, and make sure you use the department template for the background. This one leans heavily toward “ends”. Clearly there are some “means” in the directions however, there is a lot of latitude in the execution of the task.

Leaders who paint a clear picture of the completed project give subordinates a lot of leeway in how they get there. That leeway creates growth and learning opportunities. The “means” delegator limits the creativity and growth when directing exactly how a project is to be completed. The positive is getting exactly what they wanted.

Below is simple matrix to self-assess how you delegate. Put a mental dot on how you delegate. Which quadrant did you land? Where did you want it to be and more importantly where do
your subordinates want it?

Ends Specified, No Means Specified: Maximum growth. The end state is described and the subordinate has leeway on how to get there.

Ends Specified, Means Specified: This is a possible missed opportunity, limiting creativity, growth, and an underutilization of an individual’s skills.

End Not Specified, Means Specified: This is hardly delegation and puts a burden on the leader to provide continual direction. Micro manager comes to mind.

Ends Not Specified, Means Not Specified: Put your own label in here. I call it anarchy. No defined end-state or direction to get there. Yikes!


The delegation statements we started with demonstrate the angst felt by leaders and subordinates when delegation is done poorly. As leaders and subordinates we all want:

Leaders                                                            Subordinates

To have more time                                  Control or autonomy
To work on tasks we are good at          Demonstrate our capability
To grow our subordinates                     Opportunities to grow

To become a good delegator takes time and practice. This is a simple model to assist you in becoming an effective delegator.

2 replies
  1. Robert Rowland
    Robert Rowland says:

    Way to clearly breakdown the concept of delegating Gary. I think most people could take a lesson on delegating (myself included) – especially when we do delegate but don’t get the results we were expecting. The manner you describe the concept of delegating by ‘means’ and ‘ends’ clearly shows where emphasis should be placed based on the reason for delegating in the first place. Very helpful Gary! Thanks for sharing.

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