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MOTIVATING

4 Traits of Incredibly Effective Delegators

You know you don't want to choke your staff with micromanagement minutiae. Here's how to hold yourself back and get the best out of your employees.

Before opening my business, I worked for a lot of companies--big and small, corporate and family run, traditional and innovative. I encountered many types of managers, and I learned that those who managed best were those who allowed staff members to think boldly, to move swiftly, and to do so with a game plan rather than a rulebook.  

When it came time to open Metal Mafia, I knew that I wanted my company to be a place that valued motivation and maverick thinking over micromanagement. The only way to make that happen was to be willing to delegate, and as a business owner, giving up control sometimes was scary.

To beat back fear in favor of freedom, here's how to comfortably delegate:

Establish checkpoints.

Employees thrive when they feel they are not only entrusted with, but accountable for, the projects they work on. That said, as business owners, we need to know how projects are advancing. Rather than asking about specific details every step of the way, I check in with staff members at regular intervals, but in a more general way. My staff members are able to report progress instead of feeling as though they are facing an inquisition. This allows me to head off problems before they happen, but in a way that does not compromise the autonomy of the people working for me. 

Ask a lot of questions

One of the most powerful tools in delegating successfully is to ask questions rather than give instructions. If you say you trust your employees but then tell them how you want them to do every little thing, the message is clear that you don't really trust them after all. Questioning is especially important with new hires, because it sets the tone for how the employee will be able to handle responsibilities going forward. When a member of my staff asks me what to do in a given situation, I often respond by asking what he thinks should be done. Then we can discuss his idea, and he can confidently take the reins in finding a resolution.

Make yourself a resource.

Employees can feel just as stressed or nervous as owners do when they are called upon to lead. I make sure my employees know I am there to bounce ideas off of or to lend another opinion when needed. This allows them to feel that coming to me is not a weakness or a sign of distress but rather another tool in the arsenal for getting the job done well. Asking staff people to be autonomous works only if you give them a strong support system. 

Own your mistakes

The best way to let staff people know it's OK to take charge is by showing them that the consequences are not dire if they take a wrong turn, as long as they do so in a responsible way. As an owner, I make decisions big and small all day long, and not all of them are right. I tell my employees about the good outcomes as well as the bad ones, and I take responsibility openly and honestly for both. Learning that I sometimes make bad calls allows my staff members to take calculated risks as well, knowing that I will be in their corner if something goes awry.  

Delegating successfully is not only a way to reduce stress; it's also a survival strategy. If you choke your staff with micromanagement minutiae, you miss out on the great ideas that will move your company forward and frustrate the best resource your company has--your employees.

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Last updated: Aug 20, 2012

VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG | President, Metal Mafia

In 2004, Vanessa Merit Nornberg opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009.




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