Delegate to the Right People on the Bus

Garrison Smith

02 February 2015

I recently finished reading Good to Great by Jim Collins, a cornerstone book in the business world when it comes to growing not only a good company into a great company but discovering what great leaders do.

One of the concepts that stuck with me was the metaphor of “getting the right people on the bus” Collins uses. For those who haven’t read or need a refresher, Collins uses the metaphor of a bus to symbolize your company. There are seats for your employees and the point is to get the right people in the right seats. Sometimes that means shifting people around, sometimes that means getting new people on the bus, and sometimes, unfortunately, it means getting the wrong people off the bus. It’s more about the people on the bus than the direction it’s going; if you have the right people, the direction will follow.

It’s all about the people.

Which reminded me of a quote from Ed Catmull, one of the speakers at this year’s Leadercast. In his book, Creativity, Inc. Catmull outlines the lessons he has learned while leading Pixar over the years. One of the consistent refrains you hear in every chapter as it relates to Pixar’s success is it’s about people… people, people, people.

“Find, develop, and support good people,

and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

The right people first, then everything else—ideas, strategy, creativity, direction—follows.

But what happens next?

What happens when you think you have the right people on the bus? What happens as a leader then?

I think there are three key insights you have to keep in the forefront when you’re leading a team and trying to make sure people are at the center of what you are doing:

Delegate Authority, Not Tasks - Allow your team the right amount of autonomy and authority to make decisions. No team wants to be micromanaged, plus it allows you to do what you’re best at right now. If your aim is to build leaders, delegate authority; if you want followers, delegate tasks.

Who do you need to delegate authority to this week? How can I reframe task-delegation into authority-delegation?

Trust Your Team - If you’ve assembled the right people on the bus, they should be better than you at making decisions and executing. Trust them, their expertise, and their intuition. That doesn’t mean blindly go along with whatever they say or give them free reign, but lean into their strengths and trust them where they are the best.

How can you show your team you trust them more this week? What decision-making authority can I give up in order to empower someone else?

Do What Only You Can Do - When you delegate authority and trust your team, you are freed up to do only what you can do. This doesn’t mean less work on you, it means more focused work on the things you are specifically wired to do. Because others are working from their strengths and are empowered to make and execute decisions, you can lead them better than if you attention was divided across so many other things.

What is the one thing only I can do that I need to focus on? What can someone else do better than me that I can delegate?


If these three concepts become part of you culture, I think you’ll be surprised at how much more your company becomes about the people and how well your people respond to it.

Garrison Smith

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