I have, in my team, someone who is very reactive-- someone who can't do anything on his own, someone who needs explicit instruction in carrying out a task. In the parlance of Steven Covey, the way I manage him is by gofer delegation.

Recently I tried to change this, I tried to move into "delegation by stewardship". I gave him an important mission to do: namely asking him to jumpstart an online marketing campaign.

In the true spirit of delegation by stewardship, I told him the following:

  1. the desired results of this particular mission. At the end of the day, we wanted to see whether online marketing is viable for us or not, and he had to provide us with a cost and benefit analysis of a successful marketing campaign. In other words, he was to research on the viability of online marketing.
  2. Guidelines. As we are also very new in online marketing, so we also didn't know what are the constraints/ parameters that he would be working on. We did tell him what were the possible failures-- Facebook advertising would never worked (This is just an example so you facebook fanatics, please don't get too upset with me! I don't mean facebook advertising is not good for online marketing)
  3. Resources. He does not have any prior experience/ training in online marketing campaign.But we promised him that we would support all his resource requests, we could provide him with training, technical helps and all that, as long as he asked.
  4. Accountability. We did a brief meeting on the updates of his progress every week.
  5. Consequences. We told him that he can be our online marketing head if he did this well.

However, weeks went by, and he was not making any progress. Initially he just reported on the conference he attended. For example, he attended a Google Adwords conference and he reported back what he heard and the notes he took down. And when we asked him what did he plan to do with the information at hand, he just blanked. I was so upset to see him stunned, so as a means to conclude the meeting, I asked him to do more study. I know, I wasn't suppose to tell him how to do his job, but he really seemed clueless what to do next, and ending a meeting without action items just didn't sound right at all.

The same scenario played out a few times, each time at the end of the meeting, we would ask him whether what he did so far contributed to the end results, in other words, was he getting closer to the true picture of the cost of doing an online marketing campaign? Each time he would be stunned, not sure what to reply, and the room fall into a deafening, uncomfortable silence. At the end I would have to suggest what he should do next, based on my rudimentary reading of online marketing information.

This was just one example of how he worked, there were other tasks which I assigned to him, which he couldn't execute without me telling him the exact steps. I grew very tired of micro-managing him.

Now what should I do? Should I just conclude that he "can never make it"? I truly want to see him succeeds, but as much as I tried, there was no way I can get him to be responsible for any piece of work he did in a meaningful way.

How to do stewardship delegation management on someone who is so reactive?

  • 4
    Why have you chosen someone with no experience to perform this particular role?
    – Angelo
    Jan 24, 2013 at 14:07
  • @Angelo, with the benefit of hindsight it was clear that some experiences are needed for this kind of role, but when we first started out, we didn't know what we didn't know.
    – Graviton
    Jan 25, 2013 at 2:16
  • 2
    @Graviton - So it seems that the problem is that you have not provided the proper training for an untrained employee that you knowingly hired when they were untrained. The problem here is yours not theirs. You need to mentor and help this employee learn. Mar 26, 2013 at 12:38
  • You say you asked him to "do more study." That sounds very broad... Unless you are showing him exactly what to study, and how, I think you may not be giving this employee enough credit. You asked a very challenging task, and even if all he did on his own was attend conferences, that's quite a bit.. it takes initiative to find, register, attend, take notes, format notes, etc. I would expect that assignment to go to a high level manager where "very reactive" as you describe it would not even be close to a good descriptor.
    – emragins
    Mar 18, 2014 at 6:04

6 Answers 6


It seems to me that you put this guy in a position to fail, he did, and you're surprised by it. Right now, you have two choices:

  1. Take a far more active role in his day-to-day work on this project to ensure he's moving forward. You may have more luck in one on one meetings helping to guide him to next steps without giving him instructions like you have been. You're not doing him any favours by handing him the answers when he doesn't know what to do, and you're probably actively hurting his confidence, and other people's confidence in him, by putting him on the spot in these weekly meetings, where you (should) know he won't be able to answer questions satisfactorily. In your individual meetings, ask him leading questions about potential next steps ("What do you think we should do?", "Have you considered x?", etc).
  2. Admit that you screwed up, that this guy isn't capable of performing the task you assigned him, and reassign him to something he can succeed at.

I think I see what you were trying to do here - you want to help him improve and grow. But you don't do that by throwing him in the deep end of the pool, and you don't do it by trying to force him to change his work style to something you think is better. You do it by stretching him a little bit, and (in this particular case) helping to empower him to make his own decisions, so he can learn how to determine next steps on his own and move toward them.


One of the important things with a project like this is to make your expectations clear. If this employee is used to 'gofer delegation' it may be that he expects that kind of direction as the norm - and that when you didn't give him detailed tasks, he assumed he wasn't expected to do anything. Sit down and have a conversation with him about what you expected from him. Tell him explicitly that you were expecting him to work out how to achieve the project goal on his own. Your description of some of his reactions would indicate to me that he has different expectations from you. If this does come as a surprise to him you might ask him whether he is happy to have this level of responsibility. There isn't much point in giving him responsibility he doesn't want.

You may also need to give him more guidance and feedback at first. If you tell him you need him to make a plan on how he is going to achieve his goal, then have a meeting with him a few days later to review the plan he has made, before he executes it.

Finally, not everyone is cut out to be proactive, and not everyone is cut out to be head of online marketing.


It is nice to believe that everyone wants to be managed less and have more freedom in their work. Or that everyone wants challenges to grow their skills to a new level. It however is a false and dangerous assumption. There are particular personality types that prefer to receive more direction and if this person has that type of personality, what you have done to him is nothing less than cruel. He has no idea what to do or where to go next. He just knows he is clearly failing to meet expectations. He is drowning and you threw him into the pool when he didn't know how to swim. Then when the first meeting came up and it was clear he was lost, you let him continue to drown. You owe him an apology.

The way you handle this now is to step back and talk to the employee. Talk about how he likes to work and what level of management he prefers. Talk to him about the type of growth in the organization he would like to have and what he needs to be able to do to get there. If he wants to grow, then give him smaller tasks that will allow him to learn to make some of his own choices. If he is content where he is and his performance on his ordinary duties is acceptable, then learn to manage him in the most effective way for him.

It may be that this particular task should not have been assigned to him. (It strikes me a way too complex a task to be given to someone who prefers more directions.)

I don't know what his normal job is, so I can't say if it should be a stretch or not. If it would not normally be the kind of task assigned to him, ask him if he wants you to give it to someone else. (In doing so make it clear to him that this was your failure not his, he never should have been assigned to something so far out of his skill set.) If it is the kind of task he should have been getting all along, perhaps he is the wrong person for this particular job and you can find him one that he is better suited for in your organization.

There is nothing inherently wrong with micromanaging a person who wants to be micromanaged. It is the best way to get the most from that person. Yes it is harder than just giving some vague directions and letting them go, but nobody said management was easy. You need to manage people in the way that will get thier best possible performance not in the way that you find easiest. Not everyone is looking to move up or to have their skills stretched. Perhaps he liked his job as it was and was doing a decent job at it. It also might be a good idea for you to do some reading about personality types and how they operate at work and what works best for what type.

  • He is drowning and you threw him into the pool when he didn't know how to swim. Then when the first meeting came up and it was clear he was lost, you let him continue to drown. You owe him an apology. But if he felt that he couldn't cope with it, it was his duty to inform me so; If I talked to him and made him felt like I wasn't trusting him to do the job, he would feel even more indignant. It's a damn if I do, damn if I don't situation.
    – Graviton
    Jan 26, 2013 at 7:38
  • @Graviton - I would keep trying to blame someone else for this problem then... it seems to be working for you right? Jan 28, 2013 at 14:26
  • 6
    @Graviton - But if he felt that he couldn't cope with it, it was his duty to inform me so by the tone you have taken and the steps you have reported taking, if it were me I would think you were trying to get me fired... in that case confessing to you that I am unable to preform the duties assigned is the last thing i am going to do. You are the one in charge and you are the one failing here. That you refuse to see that seems to be the problem as much as any failings of your report. Jan 29, 2013 at 3:55
  • 4
    @Graviton - Sure that is a great ideal to strive for, but you are not there yet. And it does not have to be a one or the other. It is your job to realize where I am failing and try to help me get better. Instead you have shown me that you will let me flounder when all signs say I am in over my head, then you will point your finger at me for drowning and ask my why i did not learn to swim before and that I should have told you I couldn't swim while I was focused on keeping my head above water. Right now I do not even trust that you would save me anyway. Jan 29, 2013 at 14:05
  • 1
    I wish all managers would read this before mangling managing.
    – enderland
    Mar 26, 2013 at 21:23

First Stop Enabling him to put the decisions back on you. Every time you give him a task you take that opportunity for him to step up away and reinforce his belief that the only way he can succeed is by getting direction from someone else. You also take some portion of the reward from success and benefit of learning from failure away.

If you want this person to step up and learn to take the lead you will have to start small. Taking the lead on an online marketing campaign when no one in your company has ever done one is probably not a good starter task. But you can probably help him through the process by helping him break it down and identify goals. It may be a slow process of building up the confidence to make a decision and complete the task. So start small.

Start by helping in identifying some short term goals, then have him come up with the tasks to accomplish this. Do not step in and prevent him from failing. One of the hardest tasks of leadership is allowing failure. But in order to learn how to succeed there will be some failures. You can help pick him back up but never tell him how to solve the problem. You can suggest lines of thought. I like to suggest ways I know will not work and that they should be able to figure out will not work. But make them figure it out.

Do not allow him to sit and tread water. Force him to make a choice and move forward. And no matter what happens back him up. The first time you throw him under the bus you will have compromised your ability to help him grow. He will know that you are willing to sacrifice him to protect yourself and never trust you are not working to hurt him.

When he succeeds step back and give him the credit. Trust in your managers to see the work you have done to develop him with out your pointing it out.

  • Boy, this would be a very, very long, painful process to nurture him to grow, and at the same time, I energy would be greatly diverted to babysit him... is it worth it?
    – Graviton
    Jan 26, 2013 at 2:31
  • 1
    Your choice is really simple devote the time to fixing what is broken, allow him to continue to fail because he does not have the tools to succeed, sideline him, or get rid of him. Honestly I suspect that you would have to rebuild some trust before he would actually accept any help from you. As HLGEM Said what you have done is probably seems pretty cruel. It will probably be hard to get your relationship back to a place where he trusts you enough to mentor him like this. Jan 26, 2013 at 5:35

I think you are being too kind to him in calling him reactive. I would call him a simpleton or lazy or worse. The bottom line he is either unfit or incapable of holding such an important position where market research is involved, or he quite simply has absolutely no aspiration at all.

You can feel bad for him sure, I would too but in the end of the day think of the fresh eager minds that are struggling in a mind numbing job they hate and would do anything just to be considered for a position of such potential importance and reward. Besides doing yourself a disservice by considering this "reactive" person for the role he holds, you are also disservicing all of the qualified people who have a real shot at getting this right.

For positions of importance and leadership like this in an organization it is best that you find someone that should aspire to try and climb out the window if you leave the window of opportunity open for them. The correct course of action is not to give him a step stool, 50ft of rope and a fresh squeezed lemonade and hope that he gets up out of his comfy chair to give it a shot.

You should demote him, ask him to leave the company or outright fire him. I would keep it on good terms, give him glowing references, a nice severance if it helps you sleep at night but ultimately he is not a good fit.

  • 3
    Your opining and judgement on the designee is not constructive or appropriate for this site. The question is how does the OP work WITH this individual. In life you can not just quit or fire everyone you will have to work with. You have not even begun to attempt to answer that question Jan 24, 2013 at 16:01
  • 2
    @Chad The premise of the question is flawed. Such a person shouldn't be worked with, they should be dealt with. Jan 24, 2013 at 16:09
  • 4
    I used to think that way too. I found it was doing more to hinder my career than anyone else I blamed on having to work with was. Jan 24, 2013 at 16:23
  • why is it bad to be a "simpleton"?
    – amphibient
    Jan 24, 2013 at 18:51

I aggree with the most of answers of other users.

You know that he has reactive. But you have assigned him a task where he has to act proactive. How did you trust him, on what basis you trust him that he can do well with new working style which quite contradict to his current behavior?

The change in persons behavior will not come in one night and it will come gradually. Did you discussed with hime about change in your expectations? Did you make clear him that he had to work as per the "Goofer delegation"?

I am not sure experiance level of that person. Some people always want to be in good books of their bosses and hence they always aggree to the bosses and never want to say no or bad news to their bosses. That is why he is not coming directly and saying any of his shortcomings.

Remember you will be successful when he is successful. It is your job to groom him and make him successful. He is not familiar with or not witnessed or not experianced with "Goofer delegation" working style. You have to introduce him the new working style and make sure he understands it fully and implements that style correctly. Before performing as per your expected style, this Reactive Employee(RE) has to witness or expose to that kind of working style. Below are the few suggestions that will work for you.

(1) If you haven't discussed about your expectations please do that first. Make clear to him change in your expectations. Explain him about goofer delegation. Make clear him you would like to work as per the "Goofer Delegation" Style. Suggest him any workshops with in and outside of the organisation on "Goofer Delegation"

(2) Find another teammember in your team who are familier with "Goofer Delegation" and ask that person to shadow RE. And tell the RE to observe him and learn from him in order to get familiarity.

(3) The best way that RE can learn is working with the people who are familiar with "Goofer delegation". Ask RE to join community or group which had full of people who are very familar with "Goofer delegation" and ask him participate in organising some other than work events like Organising team out, Organising team lunch etc...

(4) Finally have freequent one to one meetings with him like weekly once or twice based on the necessity. When ever he is deviating from the "Goofer delegation" style, redirecting him to "Goofer delegation" style. Clearly say him " As per goofer delegation you have to do so and so, how ever you are doing other way", show him the gap and ask him to fill the gap by next meeting.

(5) People learn faster with appreciations for good behaviour and not for critisizms for bad behaviour. So try to give more appreciations for his achivements. Don't matter how small they are. When ever he did mistake or below the expectations just show him the gap between expectation and where he is and redirect him to the right behavior.

I hope the above suggestions works for you. All the very best.

  • I think that if the RE were an observational learner then he would not be having so many problems with this. So I think 2 and 3 would be futile. You need to change the way RE is being taught. Jan 28, 2013 at 14:30

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