The stereotypical entrepreneur is a guy running around with his or her hair on fire, pushing all the buttons, pulling all the levers, and wearing all the hats. We’re all wired a little bit differently, but ultimately, we all reach the limit of what we can do alone, and when we do reach that point, with a plate already full or overflowing, we don’t have the capacity to tackle new opportunities. Mentally and physically, we’re out of gas. As a result, the company stalls out and its growth track goes flat. Obviously, when this happens, the owner has two choices: either start sharing the load (delegating) or accept the fact that the company has gone as far as it can go. Most company owners recognize this intellectually, but emotionally they have a tough time letting go of activities and responsibilities that they have always reserved for themselves. Does this sound like you? If so, please continue reading below for some thoughts on how you can get around this roadblock.
“The art of delegation is one of the key skills any entrepreneur must master.”
~ Sir Richard Branson
Famed business author and lecturer Stephen Covey has weighed in on this too. He says, “People and organizations don’t grow much without delegation . . . because they are confined to the capacities of the boss and reflect both personal strengths and weaknesses.” So why do so many small company business owners strangle their companies by insisting on doing everything themselves? There are many reasons, but here are the most common ones:
- They lack trust. They have convinced themselves (usually without any basis in fact) that nobody can do what they do as competently, as rigorously, or as responsibly as they can.
- They lack trust 2. In some cases, in order for someone else to perform adequately, the owner might have to share company information that he or she has kept under lock and key and doesn’t really want to share . . . payroll information, sales data, profit and loss stats, etc.
- They lack patience. They don’t want to take the time to train someone else to handle any of their responsibilities. Typically, you’ll hear them say, “What the heck! By the time I train someone to do this, I could have done it myself.”
- They lack courage. They’ve been doing what they’re doing for a long time. They’re good at it. They’re comfortable with it. They feel safe. Leaving all this nice, safe stuff and venturing outside of their comfort zone makes them feel insecure.
- They lack a management team. When an owner is wearing all the hats, he or she may legitimately complain that all the employees are worker bees without the proper experience or training to handle upper level management tasks.
- They lack will power. Owners will often gravitate to duties and responsibilities that they consider to be the “fun” parts of the business. In their view, doing what they enjoy is one of the perks of ownership, and they just can’t bring themselves to give any of that up.
So how do you get around some of these problems and become a world class delegator?
- Find ways to allow yourself to trust people. You can’t possibly delegate duties and responsibilities to people if you can’t trust them to competently and faithfully carry them out. If you feel you need the legal protection of non-compete or non-disclosure agreements, fine . . . put them in place. If you feel you need to test people on small assignments before giving them big assignments, do that. If you want to see how they handle low level company information before you let them in on the more important stuff, that’s fine too. Do what you need to do to develop trusting relationships with those around you or effective delegation will be impossible.
- Accept the fact that this is not about you. It’s about the company reaching its potential. So put aside your personal fears, concerns, likes, and dislikes, and focus on what the company needs from you. Decide which of your activities provide the most leverage for moving the company forward, and concentrate on those. Get someone else to do the other stuff.
- Get over yourself. It’s unlikely that you’re the only person on the planet who can do what you do, so stop pretending that you are. If you don’t have such a person already on board, then go out and find him or her.
- Don’t insist that people to whom you are delegating do things “your way.” Just because you’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the only way or even the best way. Pay attention to the outcomes people achieve and don’t worry so much about how they achieve them.
- Take joy in being a coach or mentor who helps people grow. Effective delegation gives them an opportunity to do something new and interesting and challenging. When you fail to delegate effectively, you rob them of those opportunities and leave them with routine, boring, mind-numbing tasks. Ultimately, if they’re denied those growth opportunities with you, they’ll go find them somewhere else.
In poorly managed companies, particularly in those where job security is a constant concern, people are allowed to horde information and skills in hopes of making themselves indispensable. In well-run companies, when delegation is working optimally, people at all levels of the organization are encouraged to push duties and responsibilities down to the lowest level at which they can be competently done.
When effective delegation is not present in a company, too many duties and responsibilities become concentrated in too few hands, resulting in an organization that is sluggish, top-heavy, and bureaucratic. Effective delegation requires commitment and a good deal of work. It involves building trust, coaching and mentoring, and helping people to develop new skills, but the payoff is huge. Duties and responsibilities are more evenly distributed throughout the organization and everyone is able to participate in the activities of the company at a level that is appropriate for them.