So, after years of breaking your back working for someone else, you finally take the plunge and start your own company! Your wish finally comes true! For a little bit, you revel in this accomplishment. You are now running with the cream of the crop. You feel your dreams begin to come true. The possibilities run wild in your mind!
However, the reality of the sheer scope of responsibilities that come with the new position sets in and the excitement may gradually wear off. The stakes are high and the weight of the expectations feels almost crushing.
Along with this position comes longer working hours, sometimes spilling into days off and nights and weekends, endless phone calls, preparing urgent proposals, making the sales, attending ad-hoc meetings, and more! You already see where this is headed. This new role has totally blurred the boundary between work and everything outside of work. You cram as many tasks as possible into your to-do list and you seem to pull it off for some time, but this game plan isn’t sustainable. It’s a treadmill to burnout—and it’s running faster and faster by the minute.
So much to do, yet so little time
In the always-on culture that the world is tilting towards, the above sentiment is shared among many in the entrepreneurial community. Perhaps, it’s not so much about having little time as it is about getting what we want from our businesses with the time we have. But, we entrepreneurs have a hard time differentiating between what’s important and what’s not – everything is important! However, that overwhelming To Do list is simply not a judicious use of our time.
In many instances, multitasking remains a valued trait, but it’s really counterproductive. Research sheds an unflattering light on this trait. Roy F. Baumeister, Professor of Psychology and high-performance expert, establishes an interrelationship between productivity and how many tasks we assign ourselves during the day. He says willpower is like a muscle that gets depleted after over using it over sustained periods of time. A depleted willpower shows up as decision fatigue—resulting in lower quality decision making. In layman’s terms, we water down our capacity to make quality decisions when we devote ourselves to many responsibilities and decisions during the day.
One efficient way to keep willpower at sustainable levels is to reduce the number of decisions you make – think Steve Jobs and his black turtlenecks and jeans. What better way to efficiently reduce the number of lower level decision making than through delegation?
If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority
It’s mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting to do everything yourself. True leadership is acknowledging you have both strengths and weaknesses. Also ,that other members of your team may actually be better suited than you to achieving the outcomes you desire.
At the core of delegation lies trust. I find there are typically two reasons why people don’t delegate – one is that they don’t trust their people’s ability to hand off a task to, and/or two, they personally get satisfaction from that task, so won’t give it up. Thus, we entrepreneurs, we leaders, end up doing too many things below our paygrade! Stop it!
So, instead, commit to knowing your team and where they individually excel. The buck ultimately stops with you if they do a less-than-satisfactory job. If you are surrounded by team members whose activities you constantly have to micromanage, then there is a far greater problem at hand than just farming out assignments to them to free you up to focus more on high-value functions.
How to Delegate
For leaders who feel as though delegation is losing control, here is a starting point. Look at your week and divide the tasks into high-value items vs. support functions. Before delegating the latter to a team member, establish clarity about deadlines and the outcomes you seek. Ensure you set your employee up for success by providing them with the resources and tools they will need for the task.
Remember the ultimate responsibility for the results they produce lies with YOU. Demonstrate your trust and faith in them by providing them the autonomy to work on their own through to the outcome(s). And you still want to be available to guide and provide support where needed – but not taking the task back! Employees who report fewer interruptions in their roles have been shown to be more engaged and productive.
Be willing to accept that no delegated task will be done exactly the way you would have done it yourself. You are not delegating to a clone of yourself, and that is good. Focus more on the outcomes you want and less on how you want the outcome achieved. You may be pleasantly surprised. They may outperform you in the results they deliver. If they hit a snag, ask questions to guide them to thinking of other ways for better outcomes. Show genuine appreciation for work well done and provide constructive criticism where they falter. By delegating, you make a prudent, long-term investment towards maximizing Return on Investment on your people.
When employees feel more trusted in their roles and are given the latitude to come up with the “how” to arrive at expected outcomes, they typically want to take on more functions. This frees you up to concentrate on projects with higher critical impact to your success. The goal is to empower and grow your people. If you don’t, the business suffers. And you don’t give the company what it really needs – your attention on the bigger, more strategic items.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. Great work is recognizing time as a non-renewable resource and putting that understanding to use by prioritizing and maximizing your output on the most critical aspects of your job. There are only so many hats a person can wear before they start to stretch their limits and become less efficient (see The Law of Diminishing Returns). Have a clear idea what your most critical priorities are, conserve your time and energy towards those, and tap into the competencies of your team to accomplish those tasks you need to offload for improved efficiency.
As we say in EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) – Delegate & Elevate. Delegate things off of your plate to someone who enjoys doing them (or has the aptitude and desire to learn them well) – thus, elevating their skills, knowledge and abilities. At the same time, by delegating these lower level and/or things you’re not good at and don’t like doing off of your plate, it thus elevates you to focus on the more strategic tasks the company needs you to do and that you enjoy doing! Win win!