Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Delegate, but don’t abdicate

Delegation doesn’t come naturally to any of us. But I was trying really hard to be good at it. I knew how important it was to get into the delegation mindset. I was trying to empower my employees — to let them know they could make decisions on their own, without me.

When they asked, “How should we organize all the rooms in the new office?” I said, “Any way you want to do it is fine.”

When they asked, “Which health-care plan should we go with?” I said, “You guys choose. Take a vote. Whichever one you choose, I’ll pay for.”

When they asked, “Which profit-sharing plan should we go with?” I said, “You guys choose. Whatever you think is best.”

A local magazine voted CD Baby “Best Place to Work” in the state of Oregon.

Six months later, my accountant called me and said, “Did you know that your employees set up a profit-sharing program?”

I said, “Yeah. Why?”

He said, “Did you know that they’re giving all of the profits of the company back to themselves?”


When I cancelled the profit-sharing program, I became a very unpopular guy. In our weekly company meetings, the general message from the employees was, “We need to get Derek out of here, so he stops telling us what to do. We don’t need to answer to him! He needs to answer to us!”

Then I realized that there’s such a thing as over-delegation. I had empowered my employees so much that I gave them all the power. After a complete communication breakdown, it was 85 people (my employees) against one (me). I became the scapegoat for all of their dissatisfactions.

I thought of trying to repair relationships with each of the 85 employees, over hundreds of hours of talking. But if you’ve ever had a romance break up, you know that sometimes it’s beyond repair.

So I considered firing everyone and hiring a whole new crew. I also considered shutting down the company entirely, since I wasn’t enjoying this anymore. I even considered a Willy Wonka move, where I’d put five golden tickets into five CDs and then give the whole company to some lucky finder.

In the end, I did what was best for my clients and me: I retreated into solitude, staying at a friend’s house in London, and focused entirely on programming some major new software features for CD Baby.

I never saw or spoke to my employees again. Never saw the office again.

I learned an important word: abdicate. To abdicate means to surrender or relinquish power or responsibility. This word is usually used when a king abdicates the throne or crown.

Lesson learned too late: Delegate, but don’t abdicate.

Anything You Want - book cover