You're an electrical engineer turned entrepreneur morphing into a chief executive officer. Learning to delegate is a skill that may keep your business alive -- and you (and the people around you) out of the madhouse.
Delegating is easier to write about than it is to do, because it means giving up responsibility -- an almost painful process for an entrepreneur. It's essential as a company grows and becomes more successful, and it's part of the founder's ability to grow and mature into a leadership role.
Delegating is clearly a critical management skill. The reasons for delegating are many. For the manager who passes on his or her responsibilities, it means efficiency by freeing up time, avoiding burnout, and training team members for future leadership roles. It also motivates the team when promotion opportunities materialize, and it can inject fresh ideas or new approaches to improve the work. Another important benefit of delegating for the manager is the satisfaction of watching people grow. The knowledge that your leadership enabled an employee to step up is often one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
Why is there hesitation about delegating? Often it comes down to focusing on the short-term benefits of getting a task done faster and better, rather than investing the time in training another team member to take over. We have all heard, "I can do it faster than the time it would take me to teach someone to do it." This may be true, but it's shortsighted. Sometimes the concern is over the performance of the person to whom the task would be delegated. This can be addressed by parsing out the task in measurable pieces and providing frequent feedback.
Delegation is critical for the startup founder, who is the hub for so many aspects of the business. The entrepreneur prioritizes mission-critical tasks on a daily basis and then delegates the rest, or they don't get done, resulting in a bottleneck.
It is not unusual for the technical founder to be simultaneously the CEO, architect, vice president of engineering and marketing, and application engineer. Slowly, those functions need to be entrusted to someone else for the company to grow. The vice president of engineering role needs to be handed over to someone more knowledgeable about the finer points of managing technical people, product development, and budgets. Marketing -- often an elusive concept to technical founders -- should be designated to someone with a skillset honed and refined in this area.
The process of delegating often requires some soul searching as the founder decides what role to retain. The temptation to be CEO is great, but it's not necessarily well suited to the personality or skillset of the founder. Sometimes, the founder has no choice; the investors impose the mandate to hire a new boss.
Often, though, it's an internal debate the founder has with himself or herself on the best fit in the organization. Some founders love technical challenges and believe that's where they belong. Others want to be more involved with customers and the sales process. Ultimately, the decision should be what's best for the company -- with a heavy emphasis on the best use of the founder's skillset.
Regardless, delegating can be painful. The founder surrenders some control and often needs to give up a piece of ownership of the company to bring in the talent required to help expand the business. That takes enormous trust and self-control.
The best piece of advice I can offer is for the founder to lose the ego and rise above all the emotional distractions. Hire the smartest people around with the right skillset, and give them the authority to do the job. These people have an almost uncanny ability to step into a role and surprise the founder with better than expected outcomes. They'll help move the company forward and the founder with it.
One of the most important benefits of delegating responsibility I experienced comes from the founder of a company who groomed many lieutenants, giving them authority and responsibility while removing obstacles. Once he sold his startup and his obligations to the acquiring company were completed, he started a new venture and hired almost the entire team who had worked for him before. All leaped at the opportunity to work for him again.
— Michel Courtoy is a member of the board of directors at the EDA startup Breker Verification Systems.