For many founders, the success of a business rests heavily on their shoulders. No matter how much blood, sweat and tears have already gone into starting a business, without continual shedding of said fluids, it threatens to fall over.
This is a huge issue for both the business, in terms of its continuity, and the founder, who risks burnout.
It’s no secret that success for most business owners comes from working on the business, not in the business. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s rare for founders to share how and why they transitioned.
Out of time
Every person gets 24 hours in day. The most successful people in business are the ones who use their time wisely. When you start a business, it’s common to want, even need, to do everything yourself. But as the business gets bigger you simply cannot control every aspect—you still only have 24 hours in a day. If you’re making a decision on everything, you run out of time and you make poor decisions.
Of course there are certain areas that will always need your input, but being able to minimise your involvement by hiring the right people to be a version of yourself will help you move away from any tendency to micromanage.
Successors pick themselves
In my experience, it’s better not to pick a successor and groom them for a leadership role. If you pick the right person for each role you have, you’ll find that the leaders will eventually pick themselves. They’re the ones who want responsibility and have an emotional stake in the business. They care about what you are creating and take ownership of the business’ future.
A lot of big firms do psychological testing of candidates at the hiring stage. I once went to a job interview where we were all put into teams and given tasks to do. Afterwards, the interviewers took us to lunch. Both environments were geared towards finding the people who took the lead. The problem is, the guys who talk the loudest don’t usually make the best leaders, just like in a football team where the star players aren’t always the best captains—true leaders often don’t stick out at first.
At InfoReady I knew one of our staff members was leadership material when she turned to me in a meeting and asked how I was doing with my work. She was quiet but had the most respect of anyone in the business. Look for those people.
Be patient with failure
One of the biggest challenges with delegating is allowing mistakes that will cost the business financially and sometimes in reputation. People learn through doing and they need to be comfortable with possible failure during this learning process.
If you don’t allow mistakes, you’ll continually be in charge. Just as you’ve learnt how to do your job over time making some mistakes, so too do you need to give others a grace period to do the same.
Keep communications open
Whether you’re stepping down or merely handing over some responsibility, consider that you might feel a little “left out” for a time. I remember when our cleaner went overseas for six weeks and the team had made a decision to hire the guy who cleaned the building’s lobby to do the basics while our regular cleaner was away. Now, this was not a decision I needed to be involved in, but having gone from knowing everything – even when the fruit was delivered to the office – to not knowing, this was an odd feeling. At that moment I realised they didn’t need me.
The way to soften the impact of this is to structure your internal communications so that you check in with, rather than check up on, people. We have a daily stand-up for 15 minutes each morning, where the team leaders gather round my desk and we share what’s going on so we’re across important things both ways.
Remove your ego
Lastly, you need to detach your ego from the responsibility you’re giving away. Remember why you’re doing it and the benefits to the business.
Many large organisations have rotational systems where they change CEOs every few years. This is a great way to take the ego out of leadership. It also means your best people might go from any leadership role to CEO and back again, so you retain experienced people as mentors.
Once you understand why delegation and succession are best for the business, it’s easy enough to see why you should do yourself out of a job.
Tristan Sternson is the managing director and founder of InfoReady, a leading Australian data and analytics service and solution provider.