How to Avoid Fumbling the Delegation Handoff

How to Avoid Fumbling the Delegation Handoff
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

When you hand off responsibility to someone…

  • Are you able to turn and walk away with confidence?
  • Do you trust they understand what they need to do to succeed?
  • Or, do you find that often there has been a “fumble”?

Leaders struggle when they are doing what they could do, but not what they should do.  

In other words, they allow things on their plate they could do that crowd out the mission critical things that only they should do.

The cure to this is simple: Identify the 5 things only you can do, schedule your time around these, and figure out how to delegate the rest.

Well, it sounds simple.  But have you ever known the agony of your team’s QB and RB fumbling a handoff they have practiced a thousand times?  Handoffs are not foolproof.

But they can be.

Here’s how.

Great leaders get great at delegation.
And they do it by learning to hand off the Authority Football.

The Authority Football is a delegation tactic built around the three corners of a football.

(“A football doesn’t have three corners,” you say.  Yes, but remember in junior high when you would play Flick Football?  You folded a piece of notebook paper into a triangle and then shot it across he lunch table into your opponent’s goal–their fingers.  That’s the football I am talking about.)

Clarity is the Holy Grail of Delegation.  Good handoffs require pressing for clarity around these three corners:


What is on my plate that I am being asked to do?

People fumble when they fail to own what they have been given.  This means making sure they understand the full scope of the assignment.  That they are clear on the “lanes”--what they are to do and what someone else is to do.  Examples include due dates, what success looks like, key objectives.

Corner #2   AUTHORITY

What do I have permission to do and not do ?

People fumble when they go beyond the scope of what you have asked (e.g. they spend more than budgeted, or they make a decision above their pay grade).  This means getting clear about what authority they have to act without you, and when they need permission.  Examples would be spending limits, areas that are off-limits, when they need to inform you of key changes, or other boundaries that shape the project.


Are there clear timelines, feedback, and evaluations?

People fumble when there are not clear expectations and evaluations.  You must inspect what you expect.  This means they know when you expect updates or completions.  Examples would be what progress reports look like, how you will be evaluating their performance (key metrics), and what course correction conversations look like along the way.

If the person you are handing the football off to is unclear on any of these corners, you will have a fumble.

So have the clarifying conversation, pressing for where there is lack of clarity.

  1. Are they clear about what responsibility they have?
  2. Are they about what authority they do and do not have to act?
  3. Are they clear about when you are pleased with what they have done?

The ball has not been handed off until you both have clarity around these three corners.

Which corner has caused you the most fumbles with the people you lead? I'd love to talk with you more about that. Shoot me an email and let's start handing off the ball better today.

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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