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A leaders job is to set the vision and then work relentlessly on creating the environment that allows and inspires their team to make it a reality.

In this respect, our job is more about delivering through others and less about what we physically deliver ourselves.

Unfortunately much of what we know about delegation comes from the Management Theory developed during the industrial revolution.

This was a time when organisations sought to get the maximum productivity from manual workers on a production line in a factory. We have continued to apply much of this out-dated management theory to the “knowledge workers” in an office environment and at the same time we scratch our heads, wondering why our people aren’t more engaged.

An all too familiar story plays out in most businesses around world. Following each annual engagement survey we introduce another set of initiatives and employee benefits, yet the needle only moves fractionally in the right direction, if at all. The leadership team looks at HR department as if this is their problem to fix and continue to have the same frustrated conversations…

We gave them inflationary pay-rises, free tea and coffee, bowls of fresh fruit and table football! What more do we have to do?

But what if the solution was much simpler, and cheaper?

Over fifteen years of experience tells me that a major reason for this lack of engagement is the way in which leaders delegate.

The most common approach is to tell people what needs to be achieved and how to do it. The problem with this is that it provides people with very little freedom and autonomy, which we know leads to low levels of engagement. We also know that freedom and autonomy are incredibly important for most knowledge workers.

The alternative approach is to adopt the British Army’s concept of “Mission Command”. Essentially this focuses on telling people what needs to be achieved, why the task is important and the boundaries within which they must operate.

Once you’ve done this, get out of their way and let them work out the how for themselves. Or, as General Patton said:

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

This approach does takes a little more time and effort, but the results and impact on employee engagement are phenomenal (and a whole lot cheaper than bowls of fruit, table football tables and installing Google’esque slides in the office!)

If you want to learn more about Mission Command and get a free Mission Command template then download my 14-page Weekly Planning Protocol toolkit for free here.


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  • Totally agree and I too sense the lack of this approach in far too many organisations. Great stuff.

    Posted: 9th July 2018

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