In my travels as a leadership keynote speaker, I talk to leaders inhabiting just about every possible point on the delegation spectrum. I’ve met entrepreneurs who still believe they need to do every single thing themselves—they’re easily recognized by the dark circles of exhaustion under their eyes.
Or the frantic business owners who know they need support, but who haven’t yet found the right employees. I’ve talked to harried CEOs who have already identified and hired support staff, but believe they don’t have time to train them. And finally, the fortunate folks who have successfully cracked the code of delegation. I can relate to every one of them, because at some point during my career, I’ve been exactly where they are.
And I can say from personal experience that this last group—the small percentage of leaders who are able to successfully scale themselves, freeing up their time for the things that ONLY THEY can bring to the table—is the place in which we should all aspire to be. It’s more than a personal productivity issue: the art of self-scaling is essential to the health of your business.
Your job is to make yourself redundant from the day-to-day running of the business, so that you can focus on vision and mentorship: the things ONLY you can do. So how do you perform this minor management miracle? As with most business goals, it’s a delicate balance of operational process and self-discipline. Here are five essential tips to set you on your way.
1. Identify Your Secret Sauce. This may seem like an obvious one, but if I’ve learned anything as a leadership keynote speaker, it’s not to make assumptions about anyone’s business. I have also learned, though, that leaders of a certain mindset can be so goal-focused that they don’t ever step back to observe the unique qualities that have made them successful. Knowing what ONLY you can do is the first step to understanding which parts of your business can be entrusted to others.
2. Balance Effectiveness + Efficiency. Microsoft program manager Scott Hanselman, who frequently speaks on productivity within the tech industry, makes an interesting distinction between two common words that I have found indispensable. “Effectiveness is goal orientation,” he says. “This is picking something to do. This is doing the right things—picking a goal and doing that goal. Efficiency is doing things in an economical way, process-oriented.”
“So phrased differently: Effectiveness is doing the right things, but efficiency is doing things right.” What a revelation! When tedious tasks are preventing you from spending time on big-picture vision, you’ll likely find yourself struggling with both effectiveness and efficiency, because you’re spread too thin to excel at either concept. But once you identify what “the right things” are for you—and do only those things— you’ll have the time and space to do them right.
3. Prioritize Systematically. So how do you determine which things are the “right things” for you to be working on? Roli Saxena, a senior sales executive for companies like Clever and LinkedIn, uses a simple cheat sheet that I’ve found can be a helpful tool when I find myself mired in seemingly endless details.
Using the prioritization matrix below, first place each of to-do list items in one of the four quadrants. Anything that falls into the bottom left quadrant can be politely declined. Housekeeping items can be treated as teaching moments, assigned to qualified junior staff members who are interested in growing their responsibilities and skill sets.
Home runs can be delegated to high-performing team members—with meticulous hand-off meetings, frequent communication and an open-door policy. That leaves you with strategic initiatives: things that truly deserve your undivided attention, and which require a lot of thought and problem solving. As leaders, this is where your focus should stay, both for the health of your enterprise and your own personal success.
4. Put Processes Into Place. Once you’ve set aside your “secret sauce” duties for later exploration, it’s essential that you begin to document your own personal processes for the duties you’d like to hand off. I’d recommend limiting yourself to one per day, so you can give it your full attention while also creating space in the day to get other things done.
As you go through the task, make a detailed checklist of every step you take. If process is not your forte—another phenomenon of the visionary personality—enlist your most competent admin to assist you. These documents, which can ultimately be hosted on your website or shared with anyone via Google Docs or another cloud-based document-sharing provider, will be critical in the delegation process.
5. Sidestep Decision Debt. In the early days of my business, it was a point of pride how busy I was. At the time, it didn’t matter that 70% of what I was working on could be handled by an administrative assistant; I was investing time in building my business, and it was oddly comforting. Today, with a thriving leadership keynote speaker business and a fast growing UK based commercial real estate business, it’s my job to help managers everywhere understand that busy-ness is the enemy of business.
We’ve already discussed time-sponge tasks, and how important it is to entrust these to the right people. But there’s another facet of your daily duties that can be just as time-consuming, while also potentially stopping your operations in their tracks: decision debt. No matter how many trusted professionals are on your team, if you’re the only person empowered to make important decisions, your company will always be one “yes” or “no” away from a complete standstill.
So how do you avoid these business bottlenecks? Again, process. Start by setting a weekly meeting to gain transparency into the areas of your business that are likely to accrue decision debt. Once you know where other responsible parties are needed, you can begin hiring or training specifically for these areas—so both day-to-day and important decisions can be made without your input.