Given how hard it is to create anything, and how much passion is required to overcome the inevitable obstacles you are going to face, the last thing you want to do is get in your own way. But I guarantee you will be tempted to.

Let me explain.

Invariably, people who start companies assign themselves the position of CEO. That's understandable, of course. It's their idea. But, there are many different ways of being a CEO and unfortunately a majority of people gravitate toward the old command and control model where the boss' fingerprints can be found on everything.

Can that work? Sure. But there are four problems.

  1. The business can never grow bigger than one person (you, the CEO) can manage effectively.
  2. The company can't move very quickly. Since everything has to flow through you, you create a bottleneck. People have to wait for you to sign off before they can move ahead. (Invariably, there is a line outside your office, from morning to night, as a result.)
  3. You won't get the best ideas out of your people. Once they understand the company is set up so that everything revolves around you, people are not going to take the time to develop their best ideas. "Why should I," they ask. "He is just going to do what he wants anyway."
  4. It's exhausting.

A far better approach is to let employees make as many decisions as they can, allowing them to implement them once they do.

Every time I say this, people always asked me if I am worried about employees making mistakes. My answer? "Not really."

For one thing, everyone always makes mistakes. They were making mistakes before they were empowered, and it would be silly to believe they wouldn't make any once they were.

But, an intriguing thing happens, once you start letting people make their own decisions. Invariably, the number of mistakes will go down. When employees feel you are going to make the final decision anyway, they don't always think through fully what they are doing. Once the decision is theirs, they tend to be not only more creative but careful.

Now, you are doing anything to hurt the company. And you reserve the right to have the final say. But I guarantee you after a while, you are going to use your veto power less and less. It's like anything else, the more practice employees get at making decisions, the better decisions they will make.

If the idea still makes you nervous, start small. Put a dollar limit on the decisions. ("If the decision involves less than $500, you don't need approval.") And steadily raise that limit over time, if things are going well.

Will empowerment work for you? I truly believe it will, if you can wrap your mind around giving up control.

There are three to remember with this strategy. First, as we talked about before, you are going to have to pay to get the kind of people you need. You really do get what you pay for.

Second, the people you hire initially, may not be the best ones to be running your company five or ten years from now. Your company will change, and so will your management needs. While it is a painful realization, be prepared to bring in new--and even higher priced--help. And at some point, earlier in the process than you will care to admit, you will have to start planning for an orderly management succession. If you are planning on dying with your boots on, your company might too.

Finally, if you delegate and empower, it frees you to do the things you like and think about where you want to take the company. You don't have time to think, if you are constantly putting out fires.

If you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day because of all the decisions you had to make, you may want to rethink what it means to be CEO.

 

Published on: Feb 12, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.