This is the second in a suite of five articles exploring the art of delegating. This one focuses on setting direction and the importance of “intent” to help others understand how what they are doing fits with other efforts.

Delegation Framework

The art of delegating has four components: direction, resources, bounded authority and accountability.

  1. DIRECTION/intent – what, why and interdependencies
  2. RESOURCES (financial, information, operations/technical, people, time) – specific
  3. AUTHORITY to make tactical decisions within strategic boundaries/guidelines – balanced
  4. ACCOUNTABILITY and consequences of success and failure – owned


Delegating starts with making sure others understand what needs to happen, why it’s important on its own, and how it fits with what others are doing. Some find it helpful to think of this as combination of what U.S. Army Majors, Dempsey and Chavous describe as “Commander’s Intent and Concept of Operations.”

They argue that leaders must create, understand and communicate the “mission (task and purpose) and the higher concept one and two levels up” as well as tasks, coordinating instructions, and control measures for groups across and down.

Directing someone to deliver a package to a branch office is not the same as communicating with intent. That would involve explaining to that person:

  • Whether “deliver” means drop outside, bring inside, hand to a specific purpose (task)
  • What’s in the package and why it matters to the people in the branch office (purpose)
  • How others will be involved with the delivery and use of the package contents (interdependencies)

Early on in my career my boss told me to do something. I asked him why?

“Because I’m the boss.”

“If you don’t tell me why, all I can do is exactly what you told me to do. But, if you do tell me what’s going on, then perhaps I can find an even better way to accomplish what you need.”

Achieving the objective, but not the intent

Kraft’s Pollio Dairy Products wanted to buy Sorrento from Perrier. The combination would have given Kraft critical mass in mozzarella, ricotta and other Italian cheeses.

But Perrier didn’t want to sell because Sorrento was profitable.

So, the Pollio team set out to reduce Sorrento’s profitability. They did a competitive analysis and discovered two things: 1) Sorrento’s most profitable market, by far, was New York – Pollio’s primary market. 2) Sorrento was about to expand nationally.

When Sorrento invested to secure national shelf space, Pollio did nothing.

When Sorrento dropped a national coupon, Pollio did nothing.

Then, when Sorrento launched a new national television advertising campaign, Pollio pulled all its advertising and promotional spending from every market except New York and redeployed all their resources into New York.

Within a couple of weeks, Pollio had gained 10 share points in New York and Sorrento had lost 10 share points. This cut out all of Sorrento’s profitability, causing them to cancel all their national advertising and promotion.

They ended the year back in the markets they’d started in having lost money for the year because of the failed national expansion.

Then Kraft went back to Perrier and again suggested buying Sorrento from them. But Perrier said they couldn’t sell until they’d re-built the businesses profitability.

This is why it’s so important to understand the objectives or results to be achieved and how they fit with the overall intent. Reducing Sorrento’s profitability was a step on the way to the acquisition, not the desired result on its own.

Intentional Direction

Direction/Intent is the first step in the art of delegation. Make sure people understand what you’re asking them to get done, why it matters, and how they need to interact with others.

On one level, this is relatively straightforward. Do it thoroughly. Do it intentionally (double meaning intended.) Make it as simple as possible.

On the other hand, it’s terrifying how many leaders just assume everyone else understands what they want without taking the time to check their assumptions. By definition, leaders have a different perspective than do the people following them. You have to help people see what you see so they can  understand why you’re asking them to do what you’re asking them to do and they can get done what you all need to get done and not just comply with what you ask.

Follow that with clarity around the specific resources at their disposal, their bounded authority – appropriately balanced between loose and tight – and their accepting accountability.

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