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Your highest value contribution

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“I do not lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower


Think about your highest value contribution to your company. Which activities generate the most revenue, profit, market share, etc.? Where do you get the most bang for the buck? Like most chief executives, your most significant leverage is mobilizing the forces around you - your senior staff and employees, plus critical customers, prospects, and vendors. Everything else becomes secondary to that in terms of impact.

So, the answer is yes. It would help if you gave away even the things you are "best" at. And then make sure they are done right. Make sure they are up to spec and delivered on time.

Now, the tricky part. Many executives refrain from delegating responsibilities they have labeled "critical." They fear the job will not be done correctly. Or no one else can do it as quickly, and it will not get done on time. Or the proper attention will not be paid. Or something. Or something else.

Could you give it up? The growth of your organization will be stifled to the extent that you hold on to critical functions. Your company will suffer in the areas where you think you are the expert!

Product design? You hold up the development of a critical part because you are the expert, yet you are away at a customer meeting. Staffing? Two engineers cannot be hired because you have not signed off and are out of town at a meeting with investment bankers. Sales? Negotiations on a crucial deal are held because you are meeting with a vendor in Asia.

You become the choke point on each of these vital functions. And you feel - of course - "I have to be involved." No, you do not. If you have not developed your staff to assume these functions, your company's growth will be hindered.

Aside from fear that the job will not be done as well, there is another, more insidious reason senior executives (particularly entrepreneurs) do not delegate. You become redundant if you are not doing the "important" stuff. Dead weight. Overhead. What will you do if you have a great VP of Sales or a Chief Technologist?

You feel this way because you have not completed transitions one and two: you have not taken the trouble of understanding how you create value in your company, and you have not fully assumed the role of leader. Once you make these transitions, you will not have time for the rest - delegation, not abdication.

Many executives delegate like this. They say, "John, would you take on this project? It must be done by next Thursday. Thanks." That is it. Then, when the job comes back incomplete, they are infuriated. What happened? They left out accountability. They neglected the structure to make sure things happened according to plan.

There are five components to successful delegation.

1. Give the job to someone who can get it done.

This does not mean that person has all the skills for execution, but that they can use martial the right resources. Sometimes the first step in the project will be education. Your delegate must attend a seminar or take a course to get up to speed.

2. Communicate precise conditions of satisfaction.

Timeframes, outcomes, budget constraints, etc. It must be spelled out. Anything less creates conditions for failure. It is like the old story about basketball - the players do not know where to shoot the ball without nets.

3. Work out a plan.

Depending on the project's complexity, the first step may be creating a plan. The plan should include resources, approach or method, timeline, measures, and milestones. Even simple projects require a plan.

4. Set up a structure for accountability.

If the project is to take place over the next six weeks, schedule an interim meeting two weeks from now. Or set up a weekly conference call or an emailed status report. Supply some mechanism where you can jointly evaluate progress and make mid-course corrections. This helps keep the project, and the people, on track.

5. Get buy-in.

Often timeframes are dictated by external circumstances. Still, your delegate must sign on for the task at hand. If you say, "This must be done by next Tuesday," they must agree that it is possible. Ask instead. "Can you have this by Tuesday?" This may seem a bit remedial, but the step is often overlooked. Whenever possible, have your delegate set the timeline and create the plan. It would help if you had supply guidance and sign-off. As General Patton said, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

If you skip any of the above steps, you dramatically reduce the likelihood that things will turn out the way you want them to. On the other hand, if you rigorously follow the steps, you significantly increase the odds in your favor. Is not this more work than doing it myself, you ask. No - it is not.

The time it takes to

1) set up the goals,

2) review the plan, and

3) check the progress,

is not equal to the time it takes to execute. That is how you gain leverage. This is how you multiply your efforts.

(Occasionally, it does take longer to communicate something than to do it yourself. Delegate it anyway. The next time will be easier.)

Above, I have referred to projects. This is not to say delegation is reserved for discrete tasks and problems. You also delegate ongoing functions. The process is the same in each case.

As an exercise, ask yourself, what am I unwilling to delegate? Make a list of the reasons why not. Find the best person in your organization - not you - to take on this project or function. Then call a meeting. Begin the discussion with step one above.

If there is no one to whom you can give away essential functions, you must look carefully at your staff situation. It may be time to hire the right people. If you do not have the revenues to support the staff additions, consider what is restraining your growth.

Review your relationship with your assistant or secretary. Have you let them take on their fair share of the workload? Are you giving them sufficiently sophisticated work to do? Are they ready to upgrade?

Some situations call for you to dive back in. You are the only one in your company with technical knowledge. Your insight will accelerate the design process, or you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor or customer. Go ahead, dive. Do your thing - briefly, complete the project and resume your leadership position.

Oh, one more thing.

The only point to delegating something is if it frees you for things that create more excellent value for your company. Do not give away the hiring function if you spend time fiddling with the corporate website. Do not hire a Sales VP if you spend your time buying. The most significant leverage you have is in leading your company—lavish your time on that.

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