A Metaphor for How to Delegate

Lessons from My Favorite Mentor, Part 2

Delegating is like tossing a ball and expecting the other party to catch.

My favorite mentor liked to explain the concept of Delegating through the metaphor of teaching kids how to catch a ball.


When you play catch with a very young child, you ask them to open their hands, place the ball gently into their cupped palms, and wait for their fingers to curl around the ball.

As the child gets older, you can now hold the ball a few inches above their hands, then drop the ball for them to catch.

With a 5-year-old child, you can easily toss the ball from a few paces away and expect her to catch it.

As the child grows older and gains proficiency, you can confidently and progressively increase the distance between you and your catcher, until you’re throwing the ball from far across a yard or an open field.


And so it is when we delegate at work. Don’t assign a complex project to the workplace equivalent of a toddler and blame them when they fail to deliver. In such a scenario, the fault lies with you and you alone.

Instead, start with an assignment that is appropriate for their level of experience and observe. You can’t delegate well unless you’re continuously assessing and stretching the capabilities of your team members.

If they ‘catch the ball’ easily, increase the scope and complexity of their next assignment. By throwing the ball farther each time, you stave off boredom and give your team the opportunity to stretch their skills and gain new work experiences with each assignment


If you liked this post, you may like Part 1 of this series:

P.S. Stick figures drawn by hand using the Paper app from FiftyThree (yes, I clearly need drawing lessons! I am working on it!). My ‘watermark’ added using Buffer’s Pablo app.

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