Delegation Is a Risky, But Necessary Business

  • One of the biggest challenges young organizational leaders struggle with is delegation.
  • One of the biggest challenges more veteran leaders struggle with is delegating effectively.

Both are issues I deal with in my coaching of executives and team leaders on a regular basis.

The reason this is so challenging for leaders at all levels of experience is due to the risk involved with letting go. Because, one of the cardinal rules of delegation is that even though you are letting go of the process of achieving a certain objective, you are not letting go of the responsibility for achieving that objective. And, let’s face it, who wants to risk our reputation by putting it in someone else’s hand who we may or may not have confidence in fulfilling that objective as we would?

As my recent NY Rangers hockey season came to an end in the first round of the NHL Playoffs I again found a great example from a newspaper story about one of the playoff games that I think speaks to this delegation challenge extremely well.

It’s a great lesson for leaders on delegation (the full article appeared in the New York Post on April 20, 2011):

“This is what Rangers coach John Tortorella means when he talks throughout the season of making situational personnel decisions with an eye toward the future. (something all leaders need to do to develop their people and create a pipeline for succession)

There were both 1:39 remaining in the third period and 24 seconds remaining of four-on-four play after Brandon Dubinsky gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead against the Capitals in Sunday’s Game 3, presenting the coach with the decision of which forwards to send out to defend the lead.

Tortorella chose rookie (1st year) Derek Stepan and sophomore (2nd year) Artem Anisimov, neither of whom had been close to the top of their respective games but who combined with rookie (1st year) defensemen Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh to get the job done against (veteran) forwards Jason Arnott and Mike Knuble and defenseman Mike Green and Karl Alzner to cement the victory that sends the Rangers into tonight’s Game 4 at the Garden down 2-1 in the series.

(the key quote and lesson in all this is below):
‘All year, the coach did such a good job with me of putting me in situations to prepare me for that shift,’ Stepan told The Post. ”that gave me the confidence to be able to get the job done.

Anisimov told The Post that he relished the opportunity.

‘For the coach to put me on the ice at that time, I wanted to play as smart and as hard as I could,” he said. “For him to think I could do the job made me feel very good.”‘


‘I have faith in them,’ said Coach Tortorella.”

OK, I promise, this is my last article that references the New York Rangers for at least five months, but I can’t promise no more lessons from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The important point being that the coach took a risk on putting his inexperienced players into difficult situations during the regular season so they could be prepared for key assignments during more critical time in the playoffs.

If you want to develop your people look for low(er) risk situations to hand things off to them. Then let them find their way and even, yes, let them fail. Use those failures and mistakes as teachable moments. This will create an environment where your people are willing to step up and take on new challenges for the learning experience because they are comfortable making mistakes and learning from them.

You, your people, your team and your organization will benefit over the long term.

Here are some additional resources on delegation:


This is such as an important part of leadership that I’ve included “Delegation for Development: Yours and Theirs” as one of the 6 core lessons in the Confident Leaders’ Training Camp that just finished lesson 1 this week. It’s not too late to get on board, you can learn more at

’til next time, have a great weekend!