I often wonder how many more startups would succeed if their founders could master the art and science of delegation.
It seems inherent in the mind of most first-time entrepreneurs that it was their idea, and they must do all the work themselves to make it happen. In my role as mentor and advisor to many founders, I consistently fail in convincing them of the power in wise delegation.
I saw this challenge highlighted well in a new book, Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results, by Fred Halstead. Halstead has spent many years coaching and consulting with over 200 organizations, and he's helped me articulate the benefits of delegation--and better understand some of the key barriers.
Here are the five strongest barriers to effective delegation, with tips on improving:
1. Thinking only you can implement your dream idea
Starting a business is much more than building a solution, and requires a range of skills beyond the limits of most mere humans. Even if you can learn and do everything, time is a killer in this rapidly evolving world of business and technology. You need to divide and conquer.
Even though Bill Gates ultimately proved that he could run all aspects of a business, his early delegation of marketing to Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter and Gamble, proved to be a powerful partnership. It kept Microsoft ahead of many strong competitors in the early days of the personal computer revolution.
It's time to delegate when you can't find time to work on the business, versus in the business, or you are spending too much time working outside your skill set or comfort zone.
2. Being unwilling to take the time to explain and delegate needs
It's a mistake to think that team members share the same insights that you see, and will automatically take on the role required for results. Even your most loyal and dedicated employees need guidance and direction, and will wait for you to delegate and explain. You can't afford the delay.
I find that it takes less time to explain what you need, and specifically delegate results, than to manage the chaos that occurs when many several well-intentioned people are all trying to guess what you need and do the right thing. Delegation also actually helps you to clarify and organize the requirements in your own mind.
3. Not trusting key team members to get required results
Of course, full trust must be earned, but it's critical to do some due diligence before hiring new team members or establishing partnerships. Yet too many new entrepreneurs are paranoid, assuming that everyone has some other agenda, or may steal their idea.
After due diligence, the best approach is for you to be vigilant--and explicitly communicate your trust and confidence in their abilities. This will reinforce your new team member or partner's commitment to your cause, and will relieve you of the constant extra effort of looking over their shoulder.
Delegate first to team members you trust who have the requisite skills, experience, and motivation to produce the results you need. Use their metrics to check delivery levels.
4. Having a lack of your own clarity about what it takes to succeed
Some entrepreneurs won't delegate because they lack confidence in their own understanding of the road ahead, and don't want to embarrass themselves. Others simply find it hard to communicate the "why" and the "how," or they are easily frustrated by team members who are struggling.
The solution here is to use probing questions with peers, other team members, and advisors, and then listen carefully to all input. This dialog with clarify your own understanding of the requirements, as well as theirs. It will also help you decide who is the right person for delegation, and improve your own communication to all constituents.
The questions you ask should always relate to results needed, rather than tasks required or hours to be worked. Examples might include quality measurements, marketing budget required, or sales volume projections.
5. Being afraid that delegating means losing control
The job of an entrepreneur is a big one, so you can't afford to be a "control freak" or a "micro-manager." Delegation isn't about giving up the ultimate authority and responsibility for the business. You'll always be the founder and final decision-maker. Use wise delegation to multiply your success odds.
Above all, always remember the golden rule of delegation: Focus on results, not tasks. You need to tell the delegate what needs to be achieved, rather than exactly how to get it done.
Only then can you leverage their expertise and efforts, hold them accountable for outcomes, and have the time to enjoy the fruits of your joint success.