Episode: How to Delegate for Perfect Results Every Time

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt, and this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Megan Hyatt Miller is on maternity leave with her newly adopted daughter Naomi, so I’m joined by Suzie Barbour, our fearless director of operations. Hey, Suzie.

Suzie Barbour: Hey, Michael. Good to be here.

Michael: Well, we’re excited that you’re here. Suzie is an expert at delegation, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today…to kind of demystify a skill that many leaders struggle to master: delegation. We’re going to show you how to get the result you want every time. Suzie, tell us a little bit about delegation and what that looks like from your vantage point.

Suzie: First off, can we just admit that delegation is way harder than it looks.

Michael: Indeed.

Suzie: People feel like this should come naturally to them, like everybody should know how to delegate. At some point, when you’re a leader, you’re going to need to delegate. You always have too much on your plate, and at some point, if you’re leading anything, you’re going to have to delegate, but not all of us necessarily grow up learning how to delegate well or are taught that in school or trained in that professionally when we start.

I’ve spent a lot of my career coaching executive assistants and executives on how to delegate, and I hear this kind of stuff all the time. “I delegated something to my team, and I thought I was clear, but the results were horrible, not at all what I wanted” or “People keep coming back to me for more direction. I already told them what to do.” Like, “Why are you coming back, and why do you have so many questions? If I’m going to have to answer this many questions, I should have just done it myself.”

Michael: So true.

Suzie: I’ve felt that way too. Or I hear from people all the time that “I delegated this to my team. I was really clear, and then they just went in a totally different direction. They went rogue, and they’ve done the complete opposite of what I’ve had in mind.” Or how about “They’re spending too much time on a project I’ve given them.”

Michael: Right. “Why can’t they get it done?”

Suzie: “Why can’t they get it done?” or “I delegated that to them, and they got it done in 10 minutes, and I wanted them to be more intentional and spend more time on it.” So a lot of leaders tend to give up on delegation, and they do things themselves that really their team should be doing.

Michael: Before we get started, I want to encourage you to do something. Share the link to this episode in your social feeds with #leadtowin. Tag your colleagues and friends. This is one of those episodes that you’re going to immediately think of somebody you wish were listening to it. As always, we’re joined by Larry Wilson to guide us through this topic. Hey, Larry.

Larry Wilson: Hey, Michael. Hey, Suzie. Okay. Question for you, Michael. You are so good at delegation, but we’ve heard some of the struggles people have and I relate to. Did this come naturally to you?

Michael: Absolutely not. The first time I had an executive assistant, I was a marketing director at a small publishing company. I was given an executive assistant, and honestly, it terrified me. I didn’t know what to do with her. I thought I was going to be spending all my time trying to figure out how to keep her busy and that was going to keep me from doing my work. It was crazy. Talk about an underutilized resource. Ten years later, I would have loved to have had that resource, and I didn’t, but I squandered it because I had no idea how to put her to use and how to get her to help me.

The cool thing is that delegation is a skill just like everything else you do. You can learn to do it well. If you do it, it’s going to enable you to scale your business, to be able to grow your career, to be able to leverage your work, and keep you focused on the things you really do well and only you can do. That’s why I’m excited to have Suzie here, because nobody knows more about delegation than Suzie. She was an integral input in putting together our new book Your World-Class Assistant. So we’re going to walk through some of this stuff.

Larry: We have boiled this down for you to five key pieces of information you need to communicate in order to delegate effectively. It’s like a success pathway for delegation. The first key piece of information is a clear description of the project. As it turns out, people really aren’t that good at reading minds.

Suzie: That’s so true, Larry. I think, as leaders, we really hope our people will be good at reading minds. The truth is they’re just not. There are ways and there are tools and things you can do so that they are set up to act like mind readers, but you have to put the work in as a leader first. We always say what you just mentioned, Larry: Start with a clear description of the project. And this is the description of the project overall and your intended outcome.

This sets expectations for the direction and scope of a project. It should be one, maybe two sentences tops, and it’s just really, really clear about what this project is going to be. An example might be “Create a one-page sell sheet for our new product by November 1” or maybe “Book a venue for the third-quarter team training we have coming up by April 30” or it could be “Hey, I’d like you to conduct screening interviews with our top three candidates within the next two weeks.”

Larry: Do you write it down?

Suzie: I think it depends on the way you’re communicating. Sometimes, as leaders, we’re delegating through text message to our assistant, we’re sending a message in Slack to a project manager on our team, or we’re in a meeting and we just need to say, “Hey, can you take care of this?” I think the main thing we want to do, regardless of the format in which we’re sending it, is be really, really clear with a short sentence or two when we describe the project. Michael, you do this a lot in our meetings, where you’ll pause when you know there’s an action item, and you’ll say to Jim, who’s your assistant, “Jim, can you make sure to get [this or that] done in the next two weeks?”

Michael: We just want to capture it. For beginning leaders, particularly, it’s helpful if they can write it out, you know, if they’re not in a meeting but they’re just thinking something at their desk, to write it out so they can get clear on it. We’ve tried to engineer these examples in a very specific way where they include a very definitive verb at the beginning. Like we talked about “Create a one-page sell sheet” or “Book a venue” or “Conduct screening interviews.”

There’s an action, and an action requires a verb, and we’re asking them to do something. But then a clear outcome. You know that first one is done when you have that one-page sell sheet complete or when the venue is booked or the interviews are completed. And always include a deadline. So those examples were spot on, Suzie.

Suzie: I love that piece about the verb. I think it’s really important for leaders not to miss that. You talk about this when you talk about goal setting a lot, Michael. You need to start your goals with an action so it’s very clear this is how you’re going to act. When we delegate, sometimes we forget this, and you say, “Hey, can you do this, maybe this and that?” Whereas if you say, “Can you please create this by this date,” it really helps people take ownership and have clarity.

Larry: When we say that your team can’t read your mind, sometimes I’m not sure the leader can read their own mind.

Suzie: That’s true.

Larry: Have you ever found that, that the leader just doesn’t know what they really want?

Suzie: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I think you need to pause. I think pausing is a discipline of delegation. When you know you don’t have clarity, you can’t expect your team to have clarity. It’s kind of like when I parent my kids. I can’t be disappointed in their behavior if I haven’t set expectations of what I really want this to look like. So, yeah, getting clarity before you start handing things off is always important.

Michael: This really reminds me of the first principle Dr. Covey talked about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” You have to be clear about what it is you’re delegating, what the end result, what the endgame is going to be. If you start there, if you get clear on that, then everything else is so much easier.

Larry: The benefit here is that if you communicate clearly, nobody has to guess what you want, the delegate has a clear deliverable and an unambiguous timetable, and that is really helpful.

Michael: It is.

Larry: Let’s talk about the second piece of information you need to communicate when delegating: a clear rationale.

Michael: It’s so much easier when people have the context in mind, because that helps them to fill in maybe some of the details they otherwise wouldn’t have. If they understand the why, what’s driving the what, then they can fill that out, and they’re much more likely to execute in a way that pleases you and satisfies the outcome you want. Do you have an example of how you would communicate the why in a project?

Suzie: Yeah, absolutely. First, a quick story. I remember when I first started here, Danielle Rodgers, who’s our HR manager (she’s amazing), was placed on our team. We use the StrengthsFinder assessment around here, and one of her top strengths (it might even be #1 or #2) is Context and one of my lowest strengths is Context. So when she started reporting to me, I really struggled with how much information she needed to get a project done. And I’m supposed to be a master delegator. Right? I was like, “Man! This employee needs a lot of information.”

But now we have one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had in my career, and we have figured out how to communicate both what she needs and what I need in our communication styles, which has been really fun and interesting to see, but it includes a lot of context and a lot of why for her. She told me the other day, “I feel like Context is now your number-one strength,” and I was like, “Oh! So you can teach an old dog new tricks, apparently.”

Michael: Well, Communication is your number-one strength. Right?

Suzie: It is.

Michael: You figured out that she needs context, so because Communication is your number-one strength, you provide the context. But it’s not just Danielle who needs it. All of us need it. We talk about you could provide this in a written format, in either a narrative or a bullet point, but let’s give a couple of examples of that.

Suzie: An example of a narrative for if you’re trying to communicate the why would be “The success of our quarterly off-site training depends on team interaction. To get the team relaxed and engaged, we need a venue that’s nearby. It has to be large enough for our group to spread out. It has to have above-average amenities and offer food service. It’s important to schedule this promptly, because there’s keen competition for the prime meeting spaces,” which is so true of our market here in Nashville.

Michael: This sounds like a real live narrative from one of ours.

Suzie: Basically, I’m telling somebody to schedule a team training, but I want them to understand what that day is going to feel like and why it matters to our team when they’re looking for a venue.

Michael: If somebody didn’t want to write a narrative format like that, with one sentence after another, but they just wanted to do a series of bullets, what would that look like?

Suzie: This is an example of a bulleted rationale for communicating the why. You could say, “Compelling sell sheet is crucial for product launch.” The next bullet could say, “The sales team is now preparing for next quarter sales calls.” The third bullet could say, “High-quality one sheet is needed on or before the deadline.” Very short, very punchy sentences, but it tells you why the sheet is important.

Larry: I really like this, because I think it gives the person you’re delegating to buy-in. It invites them to buy in. They see why it’s important, why it matters, so they actually sign on for it. It’s not just something I have to do because it was assigned to me.

Michael: Yeah, and it keeps it from just sounding like, “Somebody is giving me an assignment that sounds like busywork or I can’t connect the dots. I don’t know why this is important.” Everybody wants to be part of a larger story. They want somebody to connect the dots for them so they can see how the part fits into the whole. That’s your job, as a leader: to make those connections.

Suzie: Absolutely.

Michael: If people don’t feel like they have a sense of purpose at work, like their work really matters, it’s because you haven’t articulated the why.

Larry: So, the first piece to communicate: a clear description of the project. The second piece: a clear rationale. That brings us to the third piece of key information: a clear set of parameters. When you said, “They went rogue on me,” maybe this is what that’s about.

Suzie: Yeah. I always tell leaders when we’re talking about parameters to remember a time when you’ve not been clearly delegated to. What were you afraid of in that moment? You were afraid of underperforming. You’re not going to be able to do this. You’re not going to be able to hit the goal your leader has in mind. You might not even know what that goal is. So how do you achieve it? You don’t have clarity.

Or you’re afraid you’re going to take too much ownership, like you’re crossing some boundaries or you’re making decisions you’re not authorized or empowered to make. Setting clear parameters solves both of those issues. So when you’re delegating to your team as a leader, you really want to put yourself in their shoes and empower them with parameters that help them to execute on what you’ve asked.

Michael: That’s good. The way I think of it is that first piece of information about the summary or the outcome is really the what; the rationale, which is the second piece, is the why; and this third piece is really about how…how we want it done. Now, we’re not going to micromanage them. We’re not going to give them too much detail, because, honestly, as leaders, we don’t care how it gets done, or we shouldn’t care how it gets done, but there are probably some parameters or boundaries we need to be clear on so people don’t underperform or go rogue.

Suzie: Yeah, absolutely. A great way to do this is to include parameters and information, like the budget for the project or internal or external resources that could or should be used for this project or milestones for the project, if there are any. “Hey, by two weeks this needs to be done, but in six weeks this needs to be done.” Outcomes to avoid or potential pitfalls. I especially like, hey, if you’re working with a vendor and you know this vendor is going to negotiate on this, or whatever, and you’ve had experience in that before and your team hasn’t, don’t send them in blind. Empower them with things, and tell them how much authority they have to continue those discussions without you.

Michael: Do you have some examples of how this might look like? I know we often do this in bullet form when we’re doing it in written format, but what might that look like?

Suzie: Some examples of this in bullet form, which I think is the best way to do it, is “Booking to include venue plus A/V and technician and catering. Plan for 40 attendees for this coming event. Catering must include lunch, but it also needs to include a snack or beverage breaks. The total expense should not exceed $4,000 for this event. Do not use [this or that] event planning service due to previous experiences with them.”

Michael: Generally, you don’t want to dictate that much detail, but if there’s something specifically that’s going to make your hair catch on fire, then put that in the delegation.

Suzie: Put it in there. “Decorate at your discretion within the budget.” Basically, I’m saying to them, “These are the boundaries you can go to. You can go as far as you want, but don’t cross the budget.” That’s the parameters.

Michael: I think the big benefit here is you’re going to give people a clear target and guardrails so they don’t go off the road or get lost in the weeds. You’re going to get an outcome that’s more predictable because you’ve set the guardrails and they can travel down the road.

Suzie: Yeah. I know what I have to achieve, what my goal is, but I also know what my boundaries and my parameters are.

Larry: Okay. Let’s move to the fourth piece of key information you want to communicate when delegating: a clear win.

Suzie: This is my favorite secret to delegation. I just think this is where most people miss it. I just think people need to know what the win looks like. You, as a leader, need to know what the win looks like. A lot of times, when you hear leaders say, “It just didn’t meet my expectations; I feel like I could have done it better,” I think sometimes that’s because, as leaders, we really didn’t think about the win. Really? Do you think you could have done it better? How would you have done it? What would have made it more of a win?

Sometimes we’re doing that in what we call lag measures after something has been executed instead of turning it into a lead measure. Before the result is on the scene, think about what would make it a win and communicate that to your team. This is what takes your delegation to the next level: describing the win and sharing the vision with your team.

Michael: It’s almost like you’re standing in the future and you’re describing the attributes of the project when it’s complete in as much detail as you can; again, not to micromanage, but so you can get the expectations that are in your head out of your head and into your delegate’s head so they have a better chance of replicating the project.

Suzie: Yeah, absolutely. Some examples of this are you want to make sure, first of all, that you’re clear and objective, and you want to make sure your vision, the win at the end that you’re communicating, aligns with the previous instructions you’ve given. If there are a bunch of new expectations in your win that didn’t connect at all to your instructions, that’s a problem, so you want to go back. This is what takes your delegation to another level. Describing the win shares the vision with your team.

These are your attributes of success. You want to make sure you’re clear and objective when you’re communicating that win, and you want to make it parallel with the previous instructions you gave. So, if you gave these parameters and kind of communicated the why but then you’re sharing what the end looks like, what the win looks like, and there are a bunch of new expectations that don’t align with what you’ve previously shared, you might want to reevaluate that as a leader.

Michael: That’s good. Could you give us some examples?

Suzie: Yeah. So back to asking your team to book a venue for an event. When you’re talking about this win, you could say, “The venue is booked 90 days in advance, and it’s on budget. All details of the meeting space are arranged. The team is able to fully engage because they are comfortable and relaxed in the environment you’ve provided.”

Michael: That’s you stepping into the future and describing what you see. You’re bringing to life the vision of what you see, and that’s what’s so important about this “clear win” idea. You have to make visible to them what you see so they can see it.

Suzie: Michael, we have this tool we use called the After-Action Review, where after we’ve completed a project or a deadline or a launch we go back and evaluate it, like, “What could we have done better?” This is the start of that, because you have a goal in mind. You have an endgame in mind. So if you’ve delegated that from the beginning, you have something to compare it to to see if your team has achieved that goal or not.

Michael: There should be no surprise at this point, because your delegate understands clearly what you expect. They know the why. They know the how, what the parameters are. You’ve defined the win. So you really should get to the end of this delegation and both be on the same page and go, “Okay. Yeah. That’s a win, because we defined it. We took the time to talk about this before we did it.”

Suzie: Absolutely. Can we talk about time for just a second, Michael?

Michael: Yeah.

Suzie: If I’m a leader and I’m not great at delegation already and I avoid it and think I can do everything on my own faster than everybody else, this might seem like a lot of steps.

Michael: It might, but here’s the problem. I hear from leaders all the time who say, “If I want it done right, I’ve got to do it myself.” That’s because they don’t take time to delegate. I promise you doing it yourself takes a whole lot longer than going through this process. This whole process from start to finish (and I do it a lot) takes about 20 to 30 minutes. It’s not that big of a deal.

Suzie: Oh yeah…max. There are some things that are smaller that can go way faster.

Michael: Totally. And when it’s an investment, when you’re delegating a project and when you make that investment on the front end, you are guaranteeing the result. If you don’t do this, you might get lucky. They might be able to read your mind. Chances are you’re going to be frustrated, and you’re going to pull that project back, and you’re going to wonder why in the world you ever delegated it to begin with.

Suzie: Absolutely.

Larry: A real benefit here… This is what keeps people from coming back and pulling at your sleeve, saying, “Is this what you want? Is this what you want? Do I have the freedom to do this?” You give them a clear picture at the outset. It has to answer just about every question they have.

Suzie: And think about repetitive tasks too. When it’s one-off, this is still going to get it off your plate and ensure it’s done well, but if this is something you’ve had to do every day, like checking your email every day for your whole professional career, and you’re going to delegate that to an assistant, think about the time you save by just those few minutes of investment on the front end for something that’s repetitive. We all have things in our jobs as leaders that we do all the time that someone else could be taking off our plate, which, talk about the dollar value that could potentially put back into your business, your time, your work-life balance. It’s huge.

Michael: When Jim started for me as my executive assistant, I gave him three delegations at the outset, and I wrote them up. The first one was how I wanted my inbox managed, the second one was how I wanted my calendar managed, and the third one was how I wanted my travel booked. I was just putting my expectations and being clear about it. It took some fine-tuning, but oh my gosh! It really guaranteed the result so that he exceeded my expectations.

Suzie: I literally wanted to be like, “Yes, Michael!” Those three things are game changers. So many leaders need to get that kind of stuff off their plates. It’s time. It’s beyond time.

Michael: It has bought me back hundreds of hours every year.

Larry: Let’s move to the fifth and final piece of information you want to communicate when delegating: a clear level of authority.

Suzie: At Michael Hyatt & Company, we practice five levels of delegation, and it’s really vital to use these levels to be clear on exactly what authority your team has to take action. This is kind of where it divides it up. We have learned this almost as a second language when we’re delegating a project. We can say, “Hey, this is a Level 2 delegation” or “This is a Level 4 delegation.” Michael, do you want to explain what those levels mean?

Michael: Yeah. Level 1 is “Do exactly what I ask you to do.” You know, “Buy this specific gift for this specific client. I’ve already researched it. I know what I want. Just do it.” Level 2: “Research the topic and report back.” Maybe I’m not quite sure what I want to buy as a client gift, so why don’t you go out there and research the options and come back and present them to me. Level 3 is “Research the topic, outline the options, and then make a recommendation.” So they could go out there and say, “I looked at five different options out there. Here’s what I recommend for this specific client, and here’s why.”

Level 4 delegation is “Make a decision and tell me what you did.” In other words, “Buy whatever you think you need to buy, give it to the client, and then tell me what you did so that when I meet the client I’m informed and I don’t act surprised like I didn’t know what you bought for them.” Then Level 5: “Make whatever decision you think best. I don’t even need to know which decision you made.”

Suzie: This is my favorite one, by the way, because I love to be able to just hand things over to my team, obviously with all of the things we’ve talked about so they can win with this, but I love to be able to hand it over to them and know they can run with it, and as somebody who is also delegated to (even though I’m a leader, I receive projects from my leaders), I love not to be micromanaged, but I want those clear parameters and that win in mind to be able to execute. It’s so great when you can do the Level 5.

Michael: This is the highest level of delegation. It takes a lot of trust. It’s a journey to get to that level. The best example I can think of this is when I delegated to Megan, our COO… I said, “I want you to design this new office space, and it’s a Level 5 delegation. Here’s the budget.” I gave her all of the parameters and everything. “I don’t really care what you do. Just do it, and I’ll be surprised.” I didn’t see the finished space until I walked in the day before we opened it.

Suzie: I remember. That was so fun.

Michael: And I was blown away. But there were no surprises…except positive ones, pleasantly surprised because my expectations were exceeded. That’s a Level 5 delegation. It was on budget, it was on time, and it was beautiful.

Suzie: So, Michael, when you’re talking about delegating to someone at that level… You talked about trust. I think it’s important to point out that you and Megan at that point had been working together for years, and you had been practicing the various levels of delegation for a long time and learning how to give her tasks in this way, so you knew for sure that she could handle that project. You had full confidence.

Michael: That’s right. That’s probably not going to be a delegation level you’re going to start with an entry-level employee first day on the job. They’re going to work up.

Suzie: Work up to it.

Larry: I know those levels may be hard to take in in audio format and hard to remember, but we have a free resource for you called the 5 Levels of Delegation Cheat Sheet, just a handy tool you can keep around, maybe tuck in your planner so that you have that available, especially as you’re learning this. I just want to confess, if I can do that here… I tried to implement this one time with a team, and I wasn’t thoroughly versed in these. I launched it to them and said, “We’re just going to use the levels and talk about delegation this way.” So they’d come back and ask, “Is that Level 3 or Level 4?” and I would say, “Remind me again.”

Suzie: “What are those levels?”

Larry: So, this will help you to get these firmly in mind, and you can hand them to your team too, the 5 Levels of Delegation Cheat Sheet. That’s a free tool you can check out at Well, today we’ve learned that you can really get great results from delegating when you communicate the right information. The five key pieces we’ve talked about are a clear description of the project, a clear rationale, a clear set of parameters, a clear win, and a clear level of authority. Michael and Suzie, any final thoughts for our listeners?

Suzie: I would just say, first, don’t feel ashamed if you struggle with delegation, if you resonated with some of those things I said in the beginning about “I’m always frustrated because my team goes rogue” or “It’s always faster if I just do it myself.” If you feel that way, don’t feel ashamed about that. That’s actually really common. We hear this a lot from our coaching clients. We hear this a lot from leaders we work with.

Just know there is a better way. It takes a little bit of discipline, it takes a little bit of learning on your end and investment on the front end to be able to delegate like a pro, but once you get that down and your team is empowered to execute on your behalf, you’re going to save a ton of time for yourself as a leader. It’s so important. So don’t feel bad about it, but also don’t stay stuck in a rut. It’s time to be a great delegator.

Michael: So good, Suzie. Thank you. My final thoughts on this would be that if you don’t intend to grow, you don’t have to learn to delegate. You only have to do this if you want to grow your career or grow your business, make more money, achieve bigger results. Here’s the thing: You need a team to achieve your dream. In order to make use of a team, you have to learn to delegate. That’s why this is so important.

Larry: Suzie, Michael, thank you so much for this practical advice on something I think a lot of leaders are going to take to heart, and, Suzie, thank you for being here today.

Suzie: Thank you. It’s been fun, guys.

Michael: Yeah, thanks, Suzie, and thank you, Larry, for leading us through this. Thank you guys for joining us on Lead to Win, and join us next week for another brand-new episode. Until then, lead to win.