Sustainability, Growth, and Letting Go

Those who have had the experience of working with me as their manager, know I am an unabashed control freak. Delegation is an issue with me.  Quick decisions are also not a strong point; I tend to be analytical and extend decision making.

(I am sure I have many other weaknesses, but we’ll save those for another day!)

I know these qualities don’t always serve me well in leadership and management, and certainly not in developing a business! Knowing these traits is one thing; managing my time so they are not inhibitors is another.

I find these same attributes in many of the principals and leaders with whom I work.  Symptoms related to growth, profitability, and sustainability often stem from a leader’s inability to let go and allow others to lead or take responsibility for various aspects of the business.

This can happen quite unintentionally.  A leader continues the habits that have made them successful to date.  An opportunity evolves or a disaster occurs that puts the leader in a tactical mode. Maybe it was tenacious cost control, or sales and delivery of a critical deal. The net is that leaders sometimes hold on to lower level tasks, through direct control, or indirect oversight via review and approval processes, for trivial activities.

These lower level activities rob time and resources from the strategic and important, an ultimately inhibit growth and success. When a leader is disproportionately involved with operational and lower level functions, a culture of risk aversion and conservatism develops, and ultimately disengaged staff.

  •  “I’ll wait until the boss says something…”
  • “These kind of decisions need to go to the boss…”

Worse yet, these leadership practices stifle innovation and creativity. Initiative is squashed. People begin to limit their efforts to their own specific job responsibilities and self-interests, and slowly lose vision of larger organizational goals and purpose.  Ultimately, these people either leave in search of something better where they can grow and shine, or slip into their own world, going through the motions at work collecting a paycheck.

Hardly a pretty picture.  And, one we’ve most likely all been a part of at one time or another.

Conversely, the most successful organizations I work with are led by people who are continually letting go, delegating responsibility and authority to their staff, and encouraging them to do the same. I see these organizations as the high performers in their sectors, with higher revenue and profits, and greater sustainability.  I see these leaders focus on strategies for growth, and take vacations with their families once in a while!

I am particularly sensitive to this as a small business owner myself as my tendencies to resist delegation and “paralysis by analysis” steal time from revenue generation and growth. I ask “How does dealing with this add to revenue?”  The next step is “Who can I get to do this so I can go sell something?”

As a leader and executive, whether it is in a startup or ongoing $100m firm, your time is your most precious resource.  Look at how you are investing it to grow your business and make it sustainable without you.  Ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • “What did I do that enhanced my business?”
  • “What did I do that didn’t contribute to growth or revenue?”

If the time spent on activities covered by the first question doesn’t far exceed time spent on the second question, you have work to do.  Get a coach or work with a colleague willing to advise and mentor. Learn techniques for time management, setting priorities, delegation and leadership.

Look at the business and professional leaders you admire.  They’ve figured it out. You can also.