delegate

Among my various clients, I admire one entrepreneur in particular. Like many others, he is smart and hard-working. But he possesses a rare skill to tackle very difficult problems in a way that is simple and obvious.

When he mentioned how overworked he was, we lamented about the life of someone who has to fill the roles of sales, finance, operations manager, marketing, engineer, and cleaning lady.

What Should We Do?

It wasn’t that he didn’t have an excellent staff. He spent most of his day answering questions from his employees. Should the company refund the purchase price? Should we advertise on the radio or on the internet? Should a temp worker be hired for this project?

Every manager and business leader has to make these types of decisions many times a day. However, a nagging feeling persists as to whether you are really the expert who should be making the decision, whether you have been provided with all the information necessary and whether there is a more important task waiting.

There’s Always More

Usually, there are always more important tasks waiting:

  • We need more sales
  • Quality has to improve
  • We have to start a new marketing campaign today
  • We need to cut expenses
  • Technology is to be updated
  • Our staff needs to be retrained for the new product

To be a leader, one has to get the big picture. One has to extricate oneself from the daily problems, even though one might be the best qualified individual, since he knows the company, customer, and product better than anyone else.

One of the challenges of leadership is how to become more hands off, how to let go and how to let the business be run by others. This is so one can look at the business from a distance.

The Idea

My client came up with the following idea. Whenever he faced a question from his staff, he held a staff meeting. He explained to everyone the decision and the thought process. He asked someone to keep minutes of this meeting. After a couple of weeks, the manual had become quite thick. Eventually he was free to focus on whatever he wanted.

Book

After half a year, his employees hired temps and new staff. They performed all customer service functions without fail so that he could sometimes even stay at home. My client did not stop working. He only shifted his focus.

The Solution

I probably like this solution so much because it is close to how laws are created.

You have a problem and need to make a decision. You explain the reasoning for your decision and hope that it may serve as a guideline for similar cases in the future. You document the whole process, hoping that the reasons will be applied to similar circumstances without you having to make a decision.

Just as laws govern a society, rules and regulations can help organize a business. The comparison between a company handbook and laws even encompasses enforcement mechanisms. But you cannot call the police because Susie in Marketing contacted the ad agency too late, making everyone rush to get the ad copy out.

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Police

The K.I.S.S Principle

As with all rules and regulations that are meant to guide decisions, too much detail defeats the purpose. A friend of mine related that the German army has a multi volume handbook in which soldiers are admonished: At water-depth exceeding 2 meters, soldiers have to start swimming. This much detail is unnecessary.

Our politicians constantly fail to reduce the size and complexities of our laws. As a business owner, you will fare better if you follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple. A handbook of a few pages that everyone knows by heart is better than the tome that employees only know about but don’t understand.

What to Leave Out

If you decide to go this route of delegating decisions, remember that some rules are better left out of a rule book. You might be approached by your salesman to decide whether to give a special rebate on motor saws to your brother-in-law around Christmas. Don’t. Next year your wife might hate that part of the family and will lecture you on undermining her position! There are always one-offs that are not in the book.

Not every decision should be delegated. For example, who your strategic partners will be, if you’re going to introduce a new product line, or if you’re buying a small competitor. These are all problems that you cannot give guidance on.

Market conditions change quickly, so what is true today might not be true tomorrow. As the leader, certain decisions will remain with you.

Leadership Questions

When the outcome of a decision is uncertain and where the information at hand suggests many contradictory courses of action, these are challenges for leaders. These are the decisions a leader cannot delegate, decisions that do not fit into the rule book, the company manual, or the MBA text book.

Question

In the end, your leadership will be characterized by the decisions whose outcome was uncertain, since these decisions reflect your character as a leader.

Leadership Skills

My client and friend is a leader. He has many leadership qualities, but the one I like best is his ability to focus on the important questions and cut through the daily grind to zoom in on the aspects of the business that only a leader can tackle.

Did I mention that his business is thriving?

How Do You Delegate?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Nicolai Nielson
Nicolai is a JD, MBA, LLM who speaks several languages. He worked as in-house counsel for publicly traded companies in Silicon Valley and is currently a professor for Law and Finance at Nanchang University in China.
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