Delegate, Empower, or Do It Yourself? (The Universal Challenge in Leadership Development)

I received an unusual phone call today from a free lance writer in New York City who provides articles to a number of national magazines. She had apparently visited our blog and, as a result, wanted to chat with me about an article she’s writing on the subject of workaholics, control-freaks, and those who simply can’t “let go.” She’s responding to a growing number of inquiries on this subject from several of the magazines she writes for. Apparently there’s an increasing interest in this common challenge. We had a nice conversation covering a lot of territory.

I found the timing of this query quite interesting as I, myself, have experienced a flourishing focus on this issue over the past year from a number of our own clients. Apparently this is an area in which a little clarification might benefit both newly appointed leaders as well as those seasoned veterans who are dealing with a changing work environment.

In working with our clients, we must first make certain that they can actually discern the distinction between delegation and empowerment. We’ve discovered many who think the two words are actually synonyms for one another. Actually this couldn’t be farther from reality.

Once the differentiation is clear, we focus on which strategy should be used in which circumstance. Both approaches are very effective and when used concurrently provide extraordinary results. The true challenge we encounter regularly lies in convincing leaders to utilize either of these powerful strategies.

The reasons are classic … you’ve heard them all and maybe even used them yourself.

  • “I can do it faster myself.”
  • “I can do it better myself.”
  • “I don’t have the time to delegate/empower.”
  • “My employees simply aren’t capable!”
  • “I want to keep busy.”
  • “My employees will complain if I give them more work to do!”
  • “My employees don’t have the experience to do this job!”
  • “I’m afraid of losing control!”
  • “Doing it myself gives me a high profile!”
  • “I don’t have the heart to dump jobs onto somebody else!”
  • “I enjoy doing that particular task.”
  • “My people are too busy to take on another job!”
  • “It’s a force of habit.”
  • “If I delegate too much, my job could be threatened!”
  • “My boss may think I’m lazy!”

Sound familiar? Shame on you. You’re kidding yourself and probably, down deep, you know it!

Reframe your thinking. Shift your focus from the feeble excuses to avoid developing your people to the many legitimate benefits from doing so. Focus on each of the following W.I.I.F.M.s (What’s In It For Me) and visualize the positive results which will emerge … providing you with the opportunity to increase your personal productivity while doing the same for your staff.

  • Provides you with more time to manage.
  • Develops your replacement allowing you to progress.
  • Relieves pressure.
  • Reduces your stress levels.
  • Increases job satisfaction.
  • Develops your people.
  • Develops your management abilities.
  • Provides a motivational climate.
  • Promotes organizational efficiency.
  • Multiplies your productivity.
  • Shifts decision making to the appropriate level.

If you’re still struggling with the decision to take advantage of these very powerful and proven strategies, consider the obvious truth of the situation.

You have risen to your current status as a result of a very strong work ethic in hopes that you will develop others to duplicate your accomplishment.

You must now redirect that work ethic from doing the actual labor yourself to developing others to enhance their efforts. You can’t accomplish that task if you’re still doing the actual task yourself.


We’ve developed an empowerment model consisting of nine crucial elements that, if properly executed, will insure that you are properly and successfully supporting and developing your people. Contact us for further information on this powerful model.

Convincing leaders to attempt this dynamic strategy has been a vigorous challenge. It’s difficult to conquer years of mental conditioning to convince someone to attempt a new approach to an old problem. Sometimes the most simplistic illustration can provide the most effective results. For that reason, we created the “Hole Digger Analogy” … an unpretentious examination of an all too common debate. Should you delegate, empower or do it yourself? We apparently struck a nerve with this analogy as feedback has indicated that a number of our seminar and keynote attendees could certainly identify with its content. What do you think?

A Modern Day Dilemma …
“The Hole Digger Analogy”

Imagine, if you will …

As a career choice, we all dig holes.

You, personally, possess a B.S. in “Hole Creation” … specializing in depth, width, and volume.

You also proudly boast an M.A. in “Shovel Knowledge and Execution” both manually and mechanically, focusing in bicep development and the application of software-driven technology!

Very impressive!

You have accumulated 25 years of experience in digging a variety of award-winning holes and doing so with more pride, enthusiasm, and positive attitude than any and all hole diggers in the history of the industry!


In short, in today’s very competitive, global marketplace, nobody on the face of the earth, as we know it, digs a better hole! That’s a fact, Jack!

As a reward for your effort, you have been promoted to the position of manager/supervisor/team leader of what is expected to become an elite team of six hole diggers.

While they are a dedicated and talented team, not one of them is as educated and experienced as you are. In short, not one of them can out-produce you.

Your organization has an opportunity to bid for the largest long-term contract in its history.

Winning the contract will change the course of your organization in a very positive way for decades to come!

It is a performance-based bid with a six-week time frame.

How do you best contribute?

  • Roll up your sleeves?
  • Tell your team to stand back, watch and learn for future benefits?
  • Dig holes like no one else can—using your talent, education, experience, and determination, which far surpasses that of your individual team members? After all, we have a deadline to meet and great awards await.

OR … You provide your team with:

  • Continuous education,
  • New experiences,
  • Total support,
  • On-going feedback,
  • Permission to fail,
  • Necessary systems,
  • An excellent strategy,
  • Proper tools,
  • Guidelines,
  • Parameters,
  • Continuous training,
  • Necessary resources, and
  • A short-term and long-term target.

You establish accountability and then inspect what you expect.

By the way …
In following this second strategy, YOU will have no time to pick up a shovel … regardless of the fact that nobody on the face of the earth, as we know it, digs a better hole!

Which Strategy Will Produce the Greater Productivity?
You, working alone, digging more holes than any one person can … Or

A growing team of six dedicated people, focused on C.A.N.I., under your expert supervision and guidance, working with focus and determination?

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Strategy

  • Politics
  • Tradition
  • Human instinct
  • Time frame
  • Sense of urgency
  • Short-term performance
  • Long-term consequences
  • Any other concerns or comments

The Reality You Must Accept …

  • You achieved your current position as a leader due, in great part, to your tremendous work ethic.
  • Now you must continue that work ethic—but in a much different way.
  • Put your shovel down … reframe your strategy, change your mindset, and redirect that winning work ethic!

Your new focus is to provide your team with:

  • Continuous education,
  • New experiences,
  • Total support,
  • On-going feedback,
  • Permission to fail,
  • Necessary systems,
  • An excellent strategy,
  • Proper tools,
  • Guidelines,
  • Parameters,
  • Continuous training,
  • Necessary resources, and
  • A short-term and long-term target.

Then, you establish accountability and inspect what you expect.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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