First, understand the difference between the three. Then, tell for compliance. Co-create for commitment. Delegate for accountability.



In Bryan Smith’s Tell – Sell – Test – Consult – Co-create framework for persuading others, Telling is one-way communication in which you inform someone of what you want them to do and they do it without any discussion or input. Telling yields compliance.

Selling, testing or consulting invite contribution.

Commitment requires co-creation.

Tell when it’s your decision to make and all you need others to do is comply. Even though we’re talking about this first, it’s the last choice, reserved for times when things need to happen right now. Think of a police officer directing traffic in an intersection. All are better off if they all do what the officer tells them what to do. They don’t need to understand the context or make a contribution. They just need to comply.

Test or consult if others’ contribution is valuable.

Sell when you have a recommendation for others. Note that those “others” may have the authority to approve the choice or may have veto rights over implementation, sometimes by passive-aggressively agreeing and then either delaying implementation, implementing only part of the plan, or never quite getting to it.



The most efficient decision-making committee is a committee of one. The most efficient working team is a team of one. Shared decisions, shared work, and shared ideas are less efficient, more complicated, and, at times, much more effective. Do them sparingly and only when:


  • Two or more of you will come up with better choices, work or ideas than any one of you on your own
  • You share a purpose (mission, vision, values)
  • You have a framework for decision-making, working or idea generation


Those involved in the co-creation will be much more likely to commit to the decisions, work or ideas they co-created than those invented by others. Co-creation negates the risk of the “Not invented here” syndrome.



When others need to own not just the decision, work or ideas, but the results themselves, delegate with clear direction, resources, bounded authority and accountability.

This is the heart of Tactical Capacity, the essential bridge between strategy and execution. Tactical Capacity, is a team’s ability to translate strategies, decisions, work or ideas into tactical actions decisively, rapidly, and effectively, with high-quality responsiveness under difficult, changing conditions.

When you tell someone to do something, the best you can ever hope for is compliance. They will do what you told them to do – and no more. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, it’s all on you.

When you co-create, expect people to commit to what they helped co-create. This is far better than compliance, but still does not necessarily ensure flexible execution.

Only true delegation gives you the best chance of others actually delivering what you need then to deliver. It requires four components:


Direction: objectives, desired results, intent. This flows directly from the strategy, decisions, work that preceded the things being delegated and ideas being implemented. Direction is different than telling because it provides context for the actions people are going to take without prescribing the specific actions.


Resources: human, financial, technical, and operational. Strategy is about the creation and allocation of resources to the right place in the right way at the right time over time. Strategies are theoretically elegant and practically useless without resources. Your “direction” is meaningless until you give people the resources they need to deliver.


Bounded Authority to make tactical decisions within strategic guidelines and, yes, boundaries. This is the hardest part for some leaders. True delegation doesn’t happen without delegating decision making. If all you do is empower people to recommend things to you, you’re still in charge. You have to give them the right to prove you wrong their way and accept that they will fail (and learn) sometimes.


Accountability and consequences: standards of performance, time expectations, positive and negative consequences of success and failure. This is the last piece. Give them direction, resources, bounded authority and be clear how you’re going to call them to account. They need to own the work, the results and the consequences of those results, both positive and negative.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #753) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

Follow me on Twitter.