My first experience delegating my responsibilities in business was life changing.
The year was 1987, and my first company, Wilmar, was 10 years old. But despite having reached that decade milestone, we were still a pretty lean company. I was still handling a lot of the sales, marketing, and purchasing orders directly.
Eventually, we hit a point where even if I wanted to keep doing the work, we were growing so fast that I couldn't. We were getting so big that I finally had to make my first executive hire.
His name was Abby. And he had real corporate management experience, having worked for big corporations like PepsiCo. Abby taught me a lot, but there was one lesson that hit me like a ton of bricks--and it happened shortly after I had hired him.
One day, he came into my office and saw my desk covered with all these boxes full of parts. He said, "Bill, what are you doing?" I told him I was working on purchasing orders. He wasn't happy. He shut the door and said, "With all due respect, you should be delegating that stuff so you can be the president of the company."
Abby's advice that day was spot on. I was in my comfort zone, obsessing over tiny tasks that easily could have been delegated to someone else. And from that day on, I worked hard to learn how to let go of certain responsibilities, so I could focus on things that would truly move the company forward.
This is something every founder will experience. So, as you too learn to delegate, here are a few lessons to keep in mind.
1. Letting go is not losing control.
Say this to yourself as often as possible, like a mantra.
Letting go doesn't mean you're losing control. You can still maintain control over the day-to-day operations of your business while delegating certain tasks to your trusted staff.
So much of my book, All In, is dedicated to this topic--because it's such an important part of becoming a successful entrepreneur. The key is to know when someone is ready to be delegated to. It's a careful balance of taking the time to train people up, and putting them in a position to succeed, while also being willing to take the training wheels off and giving them the freedom to learn and fail on their own. To tell you the truth, being an effective business leader is a lot like being a father.
The reason this is so important is because your individual responsibilities as a founder should always be focused on things that can't be delegated: strong leadership, networking, big picture growth, etc.
So, put down the purchasing orders and start focusing on the things you can't train someone else to do. Your business will thank you.
2. Make the time to empower the people you want to pass responsibilities to.
Part of successfully delegating within your business is taking time out of your day to ensure the people you're delegating to are prepared.
You have to sit down and really think about how to divvy things up. See who is working on what and where their strengths lie. You can't give tasks to just anyone--delegating tasks to the wrong people is an exercise in futility.
Then, make the time to talk with each employee about their expected tasks--especially if you're giving them new responsibilities. People can't read your mind. You have to make your needs clear. And even after you've set those expectations, make the time to follow up, check in, provide feedback and ensure they are continuing to move in a productive direction.
Part of delegating is training. But the other part is maintaining. Remember, people grow stagnant without someone helping move them along.
3. Don't "delegate yourself out of a job."
That being said, I see a lot of people delegate themselves out of a job. Remember, the goal of delegation isn't for you to kick your feet up on your office desk and lounge around all day with nothing to do. The goal is to give yourself the time and space to focus on things that will move the entire ship forward.
This is a constant challenge for people at the management level. Managers have a tendency to "delegate themselves out of a job," because they don't take the time to truly understand the tasks and responsibilities they're actually overseeing. As a result, when things go wrong, they pass blame. And when things go right, they look like the hero--when really, they just got lucky.
Whether you're a middle manager, or the CEO of the company, the goal of delegation should never be to give yourself less responsibility. The goal is to make sure the responsibilities you do have are properly aligned with where your time is best spent.