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Delegate, Don't Manage

Hoarding work and not giving your employees the chance to evolve in their roles will stunt their growth.

Relinquishing control over processes and workflows you designed and implemented isn’t easy. Many of our managerial careers have led us to believe that the old adage was correct: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Employees will get things wrong—often many times over—and it can seem much more efficient to take matters into your own hands. 

There’s just one big problem with that approach: Hoarding work and not giving your employees the chance to evolve in their roles will stunt their growth, leaving your top-heavy business bereft of future leaders.

Being a great leader doesn’t mean keeping tight managerial control over your business’s operations. That approach works in the short run, but there’s only so much work you can handle by yourself. If you want your business to grow past your own personal capacity, you need to bite the bullet and start delegating. 

Do Yourself a Favor: Ease Your Grip on the Reins

Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer said it best in the July 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review: “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”

Telling your employees exactly what you want and exactly how to do it is very helpful when they’re still learning the ropes, but it isn’t conducive to individual thought. You didn’t hire mindless automatons who never stray outside of the confines of the very specific boxes you constructed around them; you hired smart people with the potential to take your business further than you ever could by yourself. You should want your people to take ownership of their work, to experiment, innovate and improve the processes you put in place.

The simple fact of the matter is that people won’t take responsibility and do more than the bare minimum unless you give them the chance to do so. And yes, there will be mistakes. You will have to redo some assignments that your employees fumble or bite your tongue if they don’t do their work the same way you’d do it. But after you get over the initial growing pains, you may well find that your business runs better than ever, even as your workload shrinks to a manageable size.

Why Delegate? The Future of Your Firm Is at Stake

Delegating may be difficult, but it’s as necessary as it is beneficial. There are essentially three groups of people within any organization who can benefit tremendously from the simple act of entrusting critical work to someone other than yourself.

If your firm is like most other financial advisory firms, the first group in question is made up of just one person: you. You’re the one who sets the tone, decides who joins the firm and what they do, and are ultimately responsible for steering the ship and ensuring it stays on course (and above water). Your time is inherently valuable, so ask yourself: Does it make sense to spend that time on low-value tasks that could be handled by someone else?

Lightening your workload by entrusting the lower-leverage activities to your employees won’t just let you focus on other tasks, it will help you clear up the cognitive real estate you need to make the decisions that push your organization toward bigger and better things. And if your org chart supports it, you’ll also be helping out the second group: your managers.

Your managers are—or should be—on their way up a leadership pipeline. Ideally, one of them will replace you one day, or at least have the skill and experience to handle new departments or lines of business as your firm expands. If that’s your goal, then ask yourself: How will a manager learn to take charge if you won’t give them the power to do so?

In the same way that you can train your managers to lead by delegating work to them, they will also learn how to delegate by handing off responsibilities to young professionals and new hires—the final group and core of your firm’s future. Those young professionals will, in turn, learn how to take ownership of their work, giving them a stake in the business beyond just punching a clock and claiming a paycheck.

The Takeaway

Delegating isn’t easy. You have to let go of some things you’d rather keep hold of, and you’ll have to redo some work and repeat the same instructions several times. But, hard as it may be, it’s the only way to lighten your load and inspire the kind of ownership and innovation that makes good businesses become great.

Matt Reiner is CEO and co-founder of Benjamin; partner at Wela Strategies LLC and Capital Investment Advisors.

TAGS: Careers
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