Don't be that leader: The good, the bad, and the ugly of delegating
If you are in a leadership position in a fast-growing business, you need to stop doing everything yourself and start delegating as much work as possible to your team. But, delegating effectively and empowering people takes courage, practice, and skill.
Working in a fast-growing startup presents many challenges. Yes, it does feel like building a plane while crossing the sky at neck-breaking speed!
Everything needs to scale. Fast. There are more things to do than is humanly possible. And leaders have to push their teams to deliver short-term results while creating the structure and processes to support their next stage of growth.
To have a fighting chance against impossible odds, great leaders surround themselves with the right team and maximize their potential. THE TEAM determines if they end up riding a spaceship to the moon or burning a spectacular hole in the ground.
If you are in a leadership position in a fast-growing business, you need to stop doing everything yourself and start delegating as much work as possible to your team. That is, after all, the holy grail of becoming a successful leader. Right?
Not so fast! Let's take a closer look at what it means to delegate.
Delegating: to entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself.
Delegation can be interpreted literally as sending another in one's place. It descends from the Latin Legare, which means "to send as an emissary".
The problem with this concept is that it's very constraining and not fit for hypergrowth.
If the team is supposed to mimic your actions, you still need to be closely involved in everything. Even if you try to provide playbooks for everything, people will still come back to you for approval and questions. A lot.
There is a name for leaders who delegate like this: micromanagers. For them, it's all about handing out assignments and instructions, supervising the execution, and controlling the outcome.
Fortunately, there is a better way. To understand it, we have to talk about another concept: empowering.
Empowering: to give someone official or legal authority, or the freedom or confidence to do something.
Notice the difference! When you empower someone, you trust them to make decisions, create a plan, and execute it. They don’t represent you. They represent themselves.
As David Ogilvy said, “Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”
How to delegate effectively
To delegate effectively and empower people takes courage, practice, and skill. Here are the main points I believe you should master.
Your responsibility is to make sure that the team possesses all the information they need to succeed. Start with WHY. Then define clear and measurable objectives. Share all the relevant information. Finally, make your values and boundaries clear.
Do it from the beginning, and keep doing it. The more you invest in communication, the more your team will act autonomously and make the right decisions.
You can't assign ownership and ask for accountability without delegating the authority to make decisions along the way.
Leaders should share their authority with the team, however, they remain ultimately responsible for the final result. That's the price of being the leader.
Great leaders and teams are not afraid of this level of commitment, they strive for it
Evaluate outcomes, not methods
Different people have different ways of doing things. The steps they take to reach the objectives may be different from the ones you would have taken. It doesn’t mean they are wrong.
It's often these new procedures and ideas that will bring new insights into the business. As long as the team achieves the desired outcome, you don't need to verify every detail.
It is through our mistakes that we learn and grow. We're all human (even you) and we will inevitably stumble along the way. Know that errors will be made and accept this fact wholeheartedly.
It is from these missteps that your business can educate itself and advance. There is no hypergrowth without learning from failure.
Are you still afraid of empowering?
Sometimes letting go can be scary. Especially for those attached to control and perfection, passing the power on to others can leave you feeling vulnerable and with many questions and worries hanging over your head.
Will the job get done correctly?
Will the work be up to my standards?
Will it take longer to complete?
Will I be held responsible?
While these fears are common, they can also be detrimental to the business. Not only do they hold you back from reaching your full potential, but they also exhibit an evident lack of trust in your team.
When these feelings arise, remember the bigger picture: what do you want for your company? Where do you want it to go, and how big do you want it to grow?
While it may be difficult to pass off responsibility to others, there are real dangers that emerge from not doing it.
As Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Consider what will happen if you fail to empower your team.
The dangers of micromanaging
Loss of speed
There are only so many hours in the day and so much that you can get done yourself. If you try to do too much or approve every detail, you become a bottleneck. You slow down production, hamper creativity, and eventually, the entire company will come to a halt.
You may be the last person to realize this problem because you feel that you are doing so much work (!) and you rarely have time to take a step back.
If you are the ceiling for quality in every department of your business, the team will never rise above your own capabilities.
While you may be great at many things, you probably hired people that are superior to yourself in their areas of expertise. That knowledge is worthless if you keep overruling their decisions.
Trying to do everything yourself will eventually wear you down and spread you too thin, affecting the quality of your most important work.
High turnover rates usually occur when employees aren’t allowed to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. An environment that stunts growth causes dissatisfaction and ultimately leads to people leaving the company.
Frequently, the people who quit are those who have more desire to contribute and crave responsibility. Losing your most valuable people will slow down the company and diminish quality again. You risk falling into a vicious circle that will cause others to become unsatisfied and leave as well.
It sounds like a nightmare, but you don't have to be that boss!
True leaders empower
If you're determined to scale, you need empowered people that can lead by your side. True leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders.
In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants to be done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling while they do it.”
You have chosen your team for a reason. They were hand-picked for their unique skills, so don’t let those talents go to waste.
Empower your people to be the best that they can be. Not only will it free up your time for the most crucial aspects of your business, but it will create a workforce that is satisfied and productive.
Build a team that looks forward to coming to work, fulfilling their obligations, and working independently to meet all of their responsibilities – the responsibilities that you have graciously delegated to them.