The Truth About Delegation

what it really means to delegate

John Nieuwenburg

John Nieuwenburg has been a professional business coach since 2004. Prior to becoming a coach, he held executive positions with Tip Top Tailors and BC Liquor Stores. In 2019, MacKay CEO Forums awarded him with Canada’s CEO Trusted Advisor Award in the Small Business category. Since becoming a coach, John has worked with over 350 clients, taking them through a systematic process that helps them feel organized, confident and in control of their businesses.

Want a better business? Learn how to delegate effectively.

Many business owners get stuck in a hub-and-spoke model of management where every task and decision must come through them.

I often describe this as being the only air traffic controller in the airport.

You feel like you’re being pulled in 100 different directions and if you so much as stop to use the washroom, the planes start crashing.

If you want to take your business to the next level – you need to get good at delegating.

I first learned how to delegate when I was 22 or 23 years old – working as a store manager for men’s clothing retailer.

Watch the video to hear me tell the story – or scroll down to read.

Early in my career, I was a store manager at Tip Top.

We had maybe five full time employees and a bunch of part timers.

It was my job to delegate work to them.

So, here’s what I did.

I assigned a section of the store to each of the full timers.

This meant that one person would be in charge of the suit section, another would be in charge of sportscoats and pants, and someone else would be in charge of haberdashery – dress shirts and ties.

Then I met with them each Monday and asked “What do you need from me? What’s going on in the suit department? We have a sale going on this week – what help do you need from me and the other team members to get the suit department ready for the sale?”

I put them in charge. They take responsibility for their job. I make myself available to provide accountability and help them succeed.

This is what it means to delegate.

Where delegation goes wrong: micromanagement or abdication

In my 20+ years of coaching, I’ve noticed that a lot of business owners don’t really understand what it means to delegate.

They either micromanage by telling their people exactly what to do and how to do it.

Which often leads to a feeling of “it would just be easier to do it all myself!”

Or they abdicate by providing no direction or guidance at all.

This often leads to “No one can do anything properly.” Or “I can’t find good employees.”

Delegation isn’t about dumping authority.

It’s about assigning the appropriate level of responsibility.

Determining the right level of delegation

The right level of delegation varies based on the employee’s skill level and the context of the situation


There are degrees of delegation.

At the lowest level, it looks like “Wait to be told. Do exactly what I say or follow these instructions precisely.”

When you go up a couple notches it might sound like: “Look into this. Tell me about the situation and we’ll decide together.” This was the level I mostly used in my Tip Top days.

Above that, it could be: “Let me know your decision, then wait for my go-ahead before proceeding.” If the suit department guy had been on the job for 2 years, we might be at this level of responsibility.

At the highest level, it’s: “Decide where action needs to be taken and manage accordingly. It’s your area of responsibility now.” Without proper training and coaching, this is abdication.

The right level of delegation depends on the context.

Someone might be a “level 9” in a role they’re highly experienced in – but only a “level 3” when you move them somewhere else.

You can involve people in determining their level of delegation by showing them a chart and asking: “Where do you think you are on this scale?”

From there, you can have a mutual understanding.

The next step is to clarify your expectations by asking your employee to create an SOP (standard operating procedure) for the task you just assigned.

(I outlined how I do this with my VA in this article: how to onboard your VA.)

This meets several goals:

  1. You are certain that your employee knows how to do what you’ve assigned
  2. You can use it as a teaching tool
  3. You have the steps documented for future use – you can give it to someone new and they can follow the steps

Have you ever wondered how McDonald’s can get their French fries to taste the same in any location? When those fried are cooked by a 16-year-old whose parents can’t get them to clean their room?

It’s through SOPs! There’s a system and process that you can teach.

Delegation is one of the most important skills a business owner can learn

Most business owners have never learned how to do it – so they end up as hub-and-spoke managers.

If you’d like some help learning this critical leadership skill, consider delegating your training to a business coach. 😉

I can help you speed up the process and avoid common pitfalls.

To discuss coaching, book 15 minutes on my calendar here: Book a call with John

The Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Business

w5 what does it mean to scale your business

How to grow your business without sacrificing time freedom

This post is part of my Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Business. Visit the guide homepage to get my best advice and coaching exercises to help you:

  • Develop systems and processes to free up your time
  • Hire and manage a great team to run your business (mostly) without you
  • Make the mindset changes that enable you to grow your business bigger - faster than you dreamed possible