Great leaders empower their people. Good leaders think they empower their people. The gap between the two is much greater than you think.
When you start a company, your success is based on your ability to make exceptional decisions and execute them. As the company grows, you can delegate more and more of the doing.
This first barrier to growth tends to be relatively easy to overcome, as the added help is a welcome relief to their out of control schedule. Typically you can start with the tasks you hated anyway. It can be tough to let go of some of the doing, but by holding onto the decision-making, you still have a pulse on the business and the control you need to feel comfortable and move the business forward.
And forward you go, all the metrics on the business dashboard are pinned at 11. All the charts go up and to the right. But so does the demand on your time and attention. Slowly but surely, you find yourself doing less but being busier than ever. Then the problems come. It starts small, but then the day hits when you realize all you do is fix stuff. Lost are the days when you could dream and see that dream turn into action.
It’s exhausting. You’ve got a killer work ethic. You know how to get stuff done, but now you’re working more hours each day, and when you finish for the day, you’re further behind than when you started.
What’s going on here?
The barrier you’re bumping up against is an empowerment barrier. And empowerment isn’t something we say we are doing. It’s not buy-in, it’s not vision, it’s not even delegation. Instead, empowerment is an organization (not just you as the founder) to make, implement, monitor, and adjust high-quality decision-making at the appropriate level throughout the enterprise.
Empowerment is the ability of an organization (not just you as the founder) to make, implement, monitor, and adjust high-quality decision-making at the appropriate level throughout the enterprise. Click To Tweet
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “I tried that, and it failed miserably!” They made terrible decisions, ran in different directions, or caved under pressure and did nothing.” If that was your experience with delegating, I want you to know that is perfectly normal. Most leaders, especially new leaders, try to delegate too early, and it flops.
But that doesn’t mean for a minute that delegation doesn’t work or that you can’t do it.
In this article, I’m going to give you five ways to truly empower your people. However, and this is important, these five strategies will only work if you’ve created the right structures in your company for empowerment to succeed. I’ve addressed all of the prerequisite work in these four articles. Check them out before you start to implement any of these five empowerment strategies.
- 5 Ways to Solve Your People Problems
- 5 Ways to Take Your Leadership Team to the Next Level
- 5 Ways to Overcome Departmental Silos
- 5 Ways to Align Every Person and Every Action within Your Company
1. Delegate both responsibility AND authority
Have you ever been in a situation where you have the responsibility to make a decision but don’t have the authority to execute? Probably not within your own business. But I’d be willing to bet that is one of the reasons why you left your previous job and started your own company.
More than any other leadership style, Visionaries desire and even need freedom and autonomy to do their best work and enjoy doing it. It’s why they thrive at the top of a company, organization, division, or department.
However, it’s also why they struggle to delegate effectively. They enjoy making decisions. Frankly, they enjoy being in control. The hard truth of delegation is that if you want someone else to drive the car, you have to give them the keys. And the only reason a Visionary will do this is if they can realize their vision is bigger than their decision-making ability.
You need to settle your why and get back in touch with your vision. Otherwise, delegation is a painful, unproductive waste of your time and a massive demoralizer for your team and your employees. That’s why you need to get clear on your mission, vision, values, and goals. Once you can see that grand vision again and communicate it effectively to your team, those you delegate to will make better decisions aligned to your vision for the company.
Delegating responsibility is easy. You’ve probably been doing that for years. What you need to do now is delegate authority. And if you don’t, just like you left your previous company and they lost all the potential you brought to the table, you are going to lose your best people. And as your inbox and voicemail box get fuller and fuller, that gap between your present reality and your vision will get bigger.
On the flip side, now that you’ve done the work of structuring your business and aligning your staff, when you delegate responsibility AND authority, you’ll be able to relax in a way that you haven’t in a very long time. Instead of getting emails about problems you have to solve, you’ll get emails about problems that someone else has already solved.
2. Start small
True delegation decision-making authority can be a daunting task. Most leaders I work with genuinely struggle to get started. It feels too big and too risky at first. That’s why I use the following exercise to simplify the first step and start with a few easy wins.
Take about 5-10 minutes (for some of you, it won’t even take that long). Think about the material decisions made in your company in the last week or so and categorize them into one of the following four categories:
Things you should decide AND are deciding
Keep up the good work. If this is a decision only you can make and you are making it, that’s a win in my book. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Things I should not decide AND am not deciding
You did it again! You don’t need to decide what brand of printer paper you use or find the next K-Cup vendor for the office Keurig. This list, however, is about to get a little longer.
Things I should not decide BUT am deciding
Ouch. Honestly, for most of my clients, once we get past the initial “I don’t know,” this list can get very long. If you don’t have a long list here, you’ve already done this exercise and are delegating authority like a pro, or you need to give this a little more thought. To find out why this is important, and why it costs you so much personally and professionally, let’s look at the fourth and final category.
Things I should decide BUT am not deciding
This is where change is going to happen in your life and business. This category is full of those items we know we need to do but can’t find the time to do. They may not be urgent, but they are important. These are the problems that keep us up at night. These are the opportunities we miss and then truly regret.
When your schedule and to-do list and mind-space are chock full of all this other stuff, there’s not enough room for these incredibly important tasks. By delegating the decision-making authority you’ve been holding onto, you will free up the space you need to focus on these few areas that can create positive change for you and the business.
Here’s a simple Delegation Matrix Worksheet you can use to map out your current involvement.
To start small, focus on delegating any should not’s that you’ve been hanging onto, and when you do, you’ll need the following strategies to make sure it works.
3. Schedule time for feedback
When a leader delegates, there is this moment of glorious freedom. For the first time in a long time, you don’t have to think about that task or decision. However, we mistakenly believe that this will last forever.
That is dumping, not delegating. You need to train your team member or the team that will be making the decision, that’s pretty obvious.
You also need to schedule a time for feedback. By putting it on the calendar and committing to it, you are far more likely to follow through.
This feedback loop is essential. You can’t delegate authority and expect it to magically work 100% of the time. You’ve had experience making these decisions for years. You probably have more data and a different perspective than them. Scheduling time for feedback keeps you engaged long enough to help root out these differences, make the appropriate changes, and then give them increasingly more freedom to make the decisions on their own.
Additionally, you need to get feedback on how you are doing as well. You’re not perfect at this whole delegating thing (yet). You will forget key information and steps, give too much space, give too little space, step on toes, and undercut progress. It’s going to happen, not because you are a bad person, it’s just a new way of leading. When you check-in, make sure there is time for you to get the feedback you need.
Finally, start with short periods and lengthen the cycles as you both achieve the results you want. First, schedule a time a week out. If you’re happy with the results, schedule another check-in a month out. If you’re not satisfied, get together again in one week. This will probably feel agonizingly slow. It is at least for the first time or two. However, as you delegate more and more decisions properly, you find a greater capacity, speed, and return on each additional delegation as you go.
4. Plan to correct
Many leaders I work with thinks that 80% what they do is to important or too difficult for someone else to do it. The truth is less than 20% of what they do should only be done by them. This flawed thinking is the number one reason delegation fails.
The fourth strategy is to bring correction to material concerns. First, here are a few what not to-dos:
Don’t call the whole experiment a failure as soon as there is a misstep. This is how it ends when leaders begrudgingly delegate because they are supposed to, not because they want to. They look for a problem to confirm their belief that they are the only ones who can make the right decision. If this is you, do not delegate. You’ll do way more damage than good and may lose some of your best people.
Don’t ignore material problems hoping they will correct themselves. If you followed my advice in step three, this is less likely to happen. However, when you give feedback, you also need to give correction. Leaders who don’t provide correction are setting themselves and their team up for failure.
Don’t swoop in and solve the problem. Leaders do this all the time, and they think they are being helpful. This heroic, save-the-day mindset will undermine the delegation process and your credibility as a leader.
Instead, here are a few things you can do to bring the connection needed and make delegation work for you
Expect things to go wrong. Mistakes will be made. You cannot expect perfection from day one. By no means should you lower your standards. What I’m getting at here is you need delegation to be a process, not an instance. Your feedback and correction are essential to their success (and yours), and when you expect things to go wrong, you are less likely to over-react.
Plan your response. If you expect something will go wrong, you allow yourself to plan your response and the necessary corrective measures in advance. This allows for a much more objective and productive approach to correction. I even recommend that you talk through the corrective actions with the team member in advance.
Think before you act. No matter how much to expect or plan, something will happen that you didn’t expect or plan. This can create an emotionally charged situation. You’ll come up with a far more valuable solution if you give yourself some time to think and process before jumping straight to your own decision.
5. Go big
Once you have made significant progress delegating authority and responsibility, it is time to take empowerment to the next level. Instead of it being a task you engage in periodically, it needs to become a core element of your company culture or ethos. As you continue to delegate more important decisions successfully, you will free up your time and begin to change your company’s role.
You will find you no longer need to be the chief decision-maker. The vast majority of your decision-making authority will rest in your leadership team, and you will delegate just about everything else to the appropriate levels. Brad Smith, the former CEO of Intuit, captured this truth when he said, “it is the job of a leader to acknowledge the greatness that already exists and create opportunities and an environment for that greatness to come out.”
You’ll increasingly come to understand that there are very few tactical or even strategic choices you must make. Instead, you can only create and cultivate a culture that aligns, empowers, and allows them to take on the individual ownership that is the hallmark of any company that succeeds in the long run.
Mastering delegation and empowering employees brings back the sheer joy of owning and leading a business. You will regain the freedom to do what you love. You’ll have the time to spend with your family. You’ll be able to dream again and move toward that dream. You’ll experience the joy of watching others grow and succeed within your organization. The glory days for you and your business are still ahead. The joys of those early days of success will pale in comparison to where you can take your business.