I Learned a Lot about Delegation During CPR Training

When I took a class on CPR a few years ago the instructor gave us one of the best lessons I’ve ever had on delegation.

She said that when you come across some who isn’t breathing, you need to get someone else to call 911 for emergency response before you begin CPR. Yelling “Somebody call 911!” turned out to be the wrong thing to do in this scenario. There is a great chance that no one will call 911 if you just yell for anybody to do it.

The instructor said that you should make eye contact with someone nearby, point at them, and say very firmly “You! Call 911 and have them send help to this address!” Maintain eye contact until they confirm and pull out a cell or go to find a phone. Then you can start with the CPR.

It is so easy for leaders to make this same mistake in working with their teams. The leader says that he wants someone to take care of this issue, problem, or opportunity and then is shocked when no one does so.

Ambiguity is the enemy of effective delegation.

We all must be as specific as possible: I am delegating to YOU. I expect YOU to achieve these outcomes with these parameters.

Try it the next time you need to hand off something. I’m looking at YOU!

2 thoughts on “I Learned a Lot about Delegation During CPR Training

  1. Thanks for this post, David! Some great food for thought.

    One thing I struggle with personally is the balance between specific delegation, like you’re describing here, and giving my team the opportunity to volunteer to take on new projects and new responsibilities they’re excited about. I tend to prefer volunteers whenever possible, rather than assigning each task or project. But my approach can lead to exactly what you’re describing–silence as no one volunteers to take it on.

    Do you have any advice on how to encourage employees to speak up and volunteer for assignments? Or do you think direct delegation is generally the better approach?

  2. First, get comfortable with the ambiguity. It’s always going to be a mix of the two and the precise blend will change over time due to a variety of factors. Where people get in trouble is when they do one or the other in the extreme.

    On your team running with their own ideas, here are a few things that have worked for me and people I’ve coached:

    * Talk with each team member at least quarterly about what they are excited about, want to do more of, areas in which they want to develop. This will often turn up some opportunities you can turn them loose on that also help your overall goals.

    * If someone brings a good idea to you, tell them, “Great idea! Go do it and let me know what you need.” I was lucky enough to have bosses early in my career who did just that to me on several occasions. Those were the projects that built my career!

    * Make your desires explicit. Tell the whole team a few times a year that you welcome them to bring ideas up and actually make them happen. If your actions and management practices back this up, it will change behavior over time.

    * Hire people who have a demonstrated history of starting new projects and running with them. You have to hire for desire but can train almost any skill.

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