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May 2017

Delegate or Die!

May 30, 2017 9:00 AM
Bruce Hunter

“At some point, your business will teach you that you can’t do it all.”

Although this applies to all leadership positions, it is especially the case for founders and owners of the privately held enterprise. The quote listed above and short story which follows comes from a business owner who learned this all-important lesson. The story ends spectacularly. Last year he sold what started as a reasonably successful business with about $20 million in revenue for over $500 million U.S. More importantly, through the growth process he got his life back. In his words…

“I was at my wit’s end and ready to throw in the towel. The harder I worked the worse it got. It was bad. I was alienating my team, my family and customers. Until I realized that to grow, I had to let go. I needed a road map and someone to keep me focused and out of the minutia. I restructured my role and my team. The magic started to happen immediately.

I’ve now moved away from diving into the day-to-day. I have a renewed trust in my team and they now believe I won’t dive back into the business. Last year I took 12 weeks of holiday and I intend to take more this year. What a change from feeling overworked, stressed and solely responsible for the success of the business. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do but the reward was worth it!”

For those of us who have held leadership positions I venture that the toughest road to climb is that of delegation. We’re wired to focus on ourselves for survival so delegation doesn’t come naturally. The truly great leaders learn the lesson of delegation early and use it to great effect in their business and personal lives.

As careers and businesses progress, there is an inverse relationship between a leader’s involvement with the day-to-day operations within a business and success.

Your goal as you move up the ranks or build your business is to become progressively more operationally irrelevant.

Here are several keys to breaking the operational bonds.

It starts with you.

With apologies to Gandhi, “You have to become the change you want to see”. Moving from “I do it all” to “you do it all” won’t come easily. Your team won’t be ready because you’ve likely trained them to look up before they act. It will take time; perhaps some people changes and likely require an outside resource to act as your guide and accountability stick. Old habits die hard and self-policing is unlikely to be successful.

The leadership team has to believe that change can happen.

An equal challenge is convincing your leadership team that a monarch can become a cheerleader. Most have likely had years of experience to the contrary and rightly go into the process with a jaundiced perspective. While I have found that a formal process of contracting roles, goals and responsibilities can be effective, real change happens only if both sides walk the talk. Direct experience is required and takes time to set.

Introduce new blood.

Instilling someone new who is responsible for the day-to-day is the quickest way to introduce the change. This is a major challenge for the obvious reasons. Fit – with both leader and employee group. Primary to their role must be the development and institution of disciplined process and metrics. The focus is to systematize the business, itself a major change.

Build an operating plan and make it the center of the day-to-day activity.

There must be something that guides the company’s action and can be relied upon to act as a sea anchor (helping the company to stay the course when times become turbulent) in a changing environment.

Police the process

Left to their own, few companies or leadership effect sustained change. The tendency is to drift back to the old ways of doing things . Most times, the introduction of a third party to keep the process on track is required.

The challenge of building a delegation culture is substantial. So too is the reward for business leaders and owners who achieve it. Exponential increases in business value, the ability to step outside of the business to chart exciting new directions and to find time to pursue other avenues of interest are well worth it.

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