D or D?

Let’s look at two scenarios. A busy and stressed-out entrepreneur is on the run. He stops by the desk of a colleague and says the following, “I need some PowerPoint slides for a presentation about our XYZ product. This is a top priority – I need it ASAP.” Now, let’s contrast that with the same encounter but different characters.

A busy and stressed-out entrepreneur is on the run. She goes to the office of a colleague and sits down to explain what she needs. “We have an opportunity to make a presentation to the ABC Company for potentially one of the largest orders of our XYZ product ever received. We’ve been building a relationship with ABC for the past year and they called last night and said we could have 30 minutes on Tuesday. Could you please help me put together this presentation? I’m going to work on exactly what I’m going to say – would you be able to put together eight PowerPoint slides that show how the XYZ product is different than the top competing products? I’m wide open to any ideas you have to be creative here. I realize that this will require some juggling on your part – what is a reasonable time line to get this completed? What can I do to help?”     

The difference in approaches isn’t hard to spot. In the first case, the entrepreneur performed the Dump and Run maneuver flawlessly. If Olympic judges were grading him, he would have nailed a perfect 10. In the second case, the entrepreneur used the Delegation technique. She too would have received high marks. So, if you were on the receiving end of this encounter, which of these entrepreneurs would you prefer to work with?

Dump or Delegate. Both start with the same letter but that’s where the similarity ends. Which is more efficient and effective? Some might say that from the entrepreneur’s perspective, handing off an assignment and quickly moving on to the next task is indeed efficient. And there’s no doubt that there are many things that simply can be “dumped” with a minimum of explanation. The problem is that some of us tend to make this the default practice rather than the exception. When I discussed this with another business person at some point in the past, he told me that “if my people aren’t smart enough to figure it out for themselves, then I have the wrong people.” I think I disagree . . . strongly.

Delegating work in a true sense requires collaboration. I’ve found the collaborative approach to be much more efficient and effective. Why? Because by spending the time necessary to bring others up-to-speed the chances for an error-free outcome increase substantially. Further, the odds also improve for a higher quality result. This happens because people are actually able to engage their brains in a much more comprehensive manner when they have a full understanding of the situation at hand. It stands to reason that if I just give someone a “snapshot” of what is needed without the broader context then I’m likely to get a narrowly-focused work product.

Here are the steps I’ve found most productive when delegating to others.

  • First, I try to provide the whole story – not just snippets. In doing so, I’m showing respect to my colleague by making sure they have the same information as do I.
  • Second, I try to be as specific as I can about what I need. But I also encourage my colleague to be innovative to the extent the situation warrants. This sends a message of flexibility as opposed to rigidity. It also enables the colleague to “personalize” the finished product.
  • Third, I make sure my colleague understands the overall timeline. It’s important that the colleague understand when I learned of the assignment. How many times have we seen someone sit on a project then do the last-minute mad dash to finish in time? The last thing I want is for my co-worker to think I’m doing this to him or her. I also want my colleague to set the deadline for completing what I’ve asked to be produced. If his/her timing doesn’t work for the assignment, I can always negotiate a tighter date.

Our team grows stronger when we Delegate every chance we get. While it may take a little longer at the front end, the final result is usually much better than what comes from the Dump scenario.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 7 – Brick Walls.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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On It or In It?

I have the good fortune to regularly mentor several amazing entrepreneurs. One question I frequently ask is, “how much time do you spend working on your business versus in your business?” A similar question is, “how much time do you spend working on strategy vs. tactics?” Usually the answer to both questions is, “not much.” The problem is easy to identify. Entrepreneurs find themselves sucked into the daily grind of firefighting and there’s no time left to do much else.

So how do we focus on strategy and vision when the bullets are flying and we’re hunkered down in our foxholes? For starters, we need to examine exactly what it is that we are doing. As part of my mentoring process I inquire on specifically what an entrepreneur is spending his or her time. It’s interesting to listen to the responses which often reflect the fact that  entrepreneurs are handling things that really shouldn’t be their responsibility. Mostly this includes performing tasks for which others should be held accountable. And it’s not just about the failure to delegate. Some entrepreneurs take the position that “if I want it done right, I need to do it myself.” Or, “I really don’t have the time to show someone else how to do it – it’s more efficient for me to bang it out.”

To solve this we need to understand what prevents us from delegating that which should be handled by others. Do we have the right people on the bus? Do we have enough people? Are the right people properly trained? Are we too high control? When I have experienced problems with delegation in the past it’s usually been the result of not having the right people to whom I can delegate. Getting to the root cause of our inability to delegate is crucial. If we don’t have the right people, what is more important than solving this problem? One of the nice things about having the right people on the team is the fact that they may not need as much training – bright, right people figure out a lot of things on their own.

How is an entrepreneur who has a very small team able to delegate effectively? In other words, he or she is a player/coach and is on the field for every single play. This is where blocking out specific amounts of time to plan and strategize can be invaluable. Perhaps this occurs every morning from 8:00 to 9:00 without fail. During that timeframe, the entrepreneur takes no phone calls or any other interruptions and refines the strategy for the enterprise, reviews key performance indicators and determines if the business is on track with respect to vision and mission. Then the entrepreneur suits up and runs out on the field with the rest of the team to face another day. I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely nothing can be allowed to disrupt this daily routine.

We can ill afford to procrastinate when it comes to working on our business because we are too busy working in our business. The more this happens the more likely it is that we’ll get caught on the hamster wheel. Around and around we go as fast as our legs will churn – but we’re not making any headway. Why exert so much energy (and money) to end up right back where we started?

Learning how to delegate and hold others accountable will allow us to strategize and envision the future for our enterprise. And sequestering ourselves for a specified period of time every single day will enable that planning and visioning to happen.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Hero or Not?

I grew up in an age where the hero of the day was a cowboy or someone like Superman. I think my favorite was a character named Paladin played by Richard Boone in Have Gun Will Travel TV western series that ran from 1957 to 1963. Paladin wore a black hat, but he was definitely a good guy. He took care of the bad guys with his cunning and his fast gun. He wore a stoic expression and generally solved the problems he faced by himself. You never saw him flinch. There were no high fives; no fist bumps; no complaints, and he was always the gentleman. Many of us grew up idolizing macho heroes of this sort.

Paladin is a wonderful metaphor for today’s entrepreneur. How many of us take the “never let ‘em see you sweat” approach and soldier on to the finish line regardless of the obstacles we encounter? I know that I certainly have felt responsibility for the hundreds of employees and their families that are integral to the success of our companies. And as a result, there have been times when I have sacrificed mightily to make certain that my colleagues are safe and secure. After all, isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?

We entrepreneurs often spend more time working in rather than on our businesses. I will stand at the head of the line to admit that in the past I handled things that others could have been doing because I a) wanted to set a good example, b) figured that I could get it done more quickly than showing someone else how to do it, or c) wanted it done properly. After a while I began to wonder why everyone stepped back and let me do these things not realizing that the example I was setting was encouraging people to believe that I would handle it! I suppose at the time that there was a feeling of indispensability on my part. I needed to be in the middle of things to pave the way to victory.

So what did I learn following this path? I learned that no one saw me as “the hero.” They became reliant upon me and they also felt that I didn’t have confidence in them. Apathy became a real problem. The quality of work slipped because the “Lee will fix it – he fixes everything” syndrome was in full swing. I was burning out and not having as much fun as I had in the past.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that if I really care about my team members and their families – and I really do – the most important thing I can do for them is to create a sustainable organization. Companies where the founder or key principal micromanages everything and strangles everyone are doomed to die when the leader retires or dies. I can’t bear the thought of that happening to the people I’ve worked with for decades. My solution has been to develop a culture of empowerment and coaching. I now spend time helping my teammates learn how to fish as opposed to doing the fishing for them. It’s my responsibility to hold the vision for our companies, but that has become a shared vision rather than just my vision. Delegation is a key element to sustainability and all team members now have clearly defined roles and accountabilities with training and resources devoted to helping them succeed.

Heroes come from the battlefield or burning buildings and not from the boardroom. Sharing responsibility is the best way to create a sustainable organization.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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