From Founder to Growth-Stage CEO: the Delegation Dilemma

June 15, 2021

A lot has been written on the key qualities of a successful entrepreneur. Quick, name three or four of your own....

Andrew Griffiths at compiled a list of 12 characteristics that I like…here are the top6:

●      Absolute clarity of purpose

●      They believe in themselves - totally

●      They are very good at finding needs and niches

●      Ability to focus on the most important things first

●      A contribution culture

●       An open mind

Now that you’re past the startup phase and you’re a growth-stage company rocketing up the growth curve, are these the key qualities that will enable your continued success?

Well, some definitely are, such as the ability to focus on the most important things first. But as the company grows in scale and complexity, so do the key qualities in a successful CEO and leadership team. Here is what it looks like:

●      From “they are very good at finding needs and niches” to “they’re very good at optimizing processes, driving down costs and improving quality.”

●      From “Absolute clarity of purpose” to “They excel at energizing, engaging and communicating their clarity of purpose to a much larger, sometimes far-flung, team.”

●       From (and this could be the most important) “they believe in themselves – totally” to “they believe in others to also make good judgments.”

The most challenging transition the growth-stage company may face is the recognition that the leader-centric model which was so helpful in the startup phase is now possibly blocking successful scaling.

The Delegation Dilemma

This pernicious obstacle for many startup leaders is transitioning from “doers” to “managers.” I get the dilemma. The company is your baby, and you understand and have nurtured every aspect of the business. How can someone else possibly fill those shoes as well as you do? But in order to make that Growth Leap, you have to build and retain a high-performing team to take the company to the next level of growth…a team where everyone understands and believes in the business just like the leaders do.

It means allowing others to make key decisions. As Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

The inability to embrace this is the Delegation Dilemma. And it comes with a heavy cost, such as…

●      Decision bottlenecks that slow everything down due to founders who insist on making every decision –big and small.

●      Founder burnout because there’s just not enough time in the day to get involved in the increased number of decisions to be made. The burden of trying to control everything can be crushing.

●      Reduced engagement and productivity or turnover because employees don’t want to be micromanaged and second-guessed.  

●       Talent revolving door which can be fatal, particularly in sectors where the fight for top talent is a strategic imperative.

The logical, and relatively easy, places to start are in areas that don’t require high-level strategic decisions, such as established processes and tasks in areas of routine accounting, execution of agreed-upon marketing plans, or oversight of basic administrative tasks. Train your people well, be really clear with them on what success looks like, let them do their job, and hold your teams to the results with which you’ve entrusted them.

This is a big topic –one that deserves time and attention, and we’ll be coming back to it in future articles. In the meanwhile, if you’d like to chat about the Delegation Dilemma, give Andrew a call.

What you can expect...
​- Help to prioritize what you need, when you need it, and a game plan to accelerate EBITDA growth.

- Access to an extensive talent network to fill key expertise gaps and bring you the right resources to implement your growth goals.

- Discipline and timeline clarity to execute the initiatives that will move your growth agenda forward quickly and efficiently.

- Confidence that you'll achieve the results you want over the next 12 - 18 months.

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