by Steve Adubato, PhD

One of the hardest aspects of a leader's job is delegating. Yet, it's a must if a leader wants to see the forest from the trees or the "big picture." Some of the reasons we find it hard to delegate include a fear of:

  • losing control
  • others not doing a job exactly the way you would do it
  • not getting credit
  • being outshone by a subordinate


Clearly, fear has a lot to do with our delegation problems. But delegating isn't easy. It takes faith in people and in ourselves. It takes coaching and open-minded communication. And it also requires that you give up some authority.


One of the cardinal rules in the delegation game is that once authority is given, it should rarely if ever be taken back. Consider a recent incident involving the New York Yankees that is less about baseball and a lot more about leadership and communication.


Owner George Steinbrenner and manager Joe Torre were equally perplexed as to what to do about the poor performance of a $32 million pitcher named Jose Contreras. Steinbrenner, who is known as "The Boss," communicated with Torre that it was the manager's call on Contreras in a face-to-face meeting. Torre communicated to the pitcher that he would go to the Yankee's minor league team in Columbus to work out some of his problems. Immediately following, Steinbrenner overruled Torre insisting that Contreras report to Tampa to work with one of Steinbrenner's pitching gurus.


Joe Torre was livid. We're talking about a manager with an impeccable track record whose reputation is based on his candid and consistent communication with team members. Torre's entire philosophy of managing is based on building and maintaining trust.


Said Torre, "My problem with this whole thing is that I sat with this young man (Contreras) and it turns out I'm the liar. That I'm not crazy about. I always am as honest as possible and I pride myself on that...I know my place and I know my job, but don't tell me I can make a decision and then tell me it's not my decision and not have it be that way."


Like I said, this isn't about baseball. This kind of thing happens every day in organizational life. Responsibilities are delegated with the implied authority necessary and then all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out. When this happens, the results are often ugly. Relationships are strained. The reputation of the leader delegating has been damaged and his ability to delegate in the future seriously hurt. The message is sent that full delegation will only occur if the boss agrees with the decision made by the "delegatee." Bad stuff.


The other result is that the delegatee's authority is undermined. Bad precedents are set. What happens in the future if a player (or an employee) disagrees with the manager's decision? Does he simply appeal it to a higher authority knowing that decisions can be undone as they have in the past?


Interestingly, George Steinbrenner is supposedly a student of great leadership. While he studies the art of leadership, he clearly broke one of its most important and basic rules. Never delegate authority to one of your people to make a decision and then undo it simply because you have a different point of view. The price paid in such an instance is enormous.


P.S.-If you must undo what you have delegated, a real leader steps up and communicates personally and directly. Ironically, what George Steinbrenner did was delegate the job of delivering the bad news to Joe Torre to one of his assistants. Being a coward on top of being a poor delegator is a terrible leadership combination.