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Delegation for Entrepreneurs: It's all about the Mindset!

ds_blog-header_summer_v3_052512At Delegate, we believe that there are many layers to effective delegation; some of which are purely emotional. In our last post we reviewed some delegation strategies that can help you begin to master the first steps of “what to hand off”. This week, we are exploring this “mindset” layer, and why it’s so particularly hard for entreps to navigate while building their business. We’ll also review some strategies you can use to reframe and conquer these thoughts.

The super-fab Michael Melcher The super-fab Michael Melcher

Our expert for this week is Executive Coach to the stars, Michael Melcher of Next Step Partners. He and his firm are particularly interested in mastering delegation as it relates to effective leadership development. His clients include prominent names in media, technology, philanthropy, law, consulting, banking, international development, environmental advocacy, social marketing, and other sectors. An executive coach for ten years, he’s written two books as well as numerous articles on leadership and career development. Michael holds a J.D./M.B.A. from Stanford and a B.A. from Harvard.He shares his best delegation mindset secrets and strategies below:

-In your coaching experience what are some of the most consistent excuses you hear when it comes to delegation?

  • “I just don’t like to delegate.” Implying that it’s a core personality characteristic that’s impossible to change rather than a chosen behavior.
  • “No one can do it as well as I can.” Presenting this as a positive statement rather than acknowledging their inner control freak, unrealistically high standards, or possibly poor habits in communicating expectations.
  • “I can’t afford this.” Lack of understanding of the potential revenue vs the cost of delegation— when the differential between what they are charging for their own services vs what they would pay for the service is quite significant.
  • “I’ve had a bad experience with delegation.” Rather than use their experience as a data point to study , they over-generalize its applicability and don’t ask deeper questions.
  • “I’m not clear on what the value would be.” They can’t imagine what their life would be like if they did delegate and they lack a vision.

- Of these which are the most difficult to address and why?

  • Those who say they “I just can’t delegate.” In this case, I would pose questions like:
    • “How’s that working for you?” (The Dr. Phil Question)
    • What do you predict is going to happen if you continue doing things the same way? Do you like that answer?
    • What is going to be the cost for you in missed opportunities?

    These questions make it clearer to people what the stakes are of their current behavior and build motivation to explore change.

  • Those who aren’t skilled at communicating what they want (or don’t take the time to do so), and aren’t aware of their limitations. Delegation is a learned skill, and while practical, fundamentally it comes down to communication.
    • Good delegation requires you to first figure out what your goals are. First you need to be clear on what you actually want as a result.
    • Think about how you plan to convey what you want done and how you will later assess what’s been done. How are you shaping/framing the task?
    • Be clear on your preference for how you are each staying accountable/checking in/correcting tasks.
    • Don’t view delegation as total outsourcing done perfectly. It’s a type of relationship rather than a complete hand-off. Good delegation is also somewhat organic – your delegation relationship improves over time as you discover what works well and what doesn’t.

- What ways have you seen clients deal with the discomforts of delegation that have worked particularly well? (Strategies)

  • First clarify your goals. Delegating doesn’t mean you overcome the issue of determining your own priorities. If the tasks are not priorities for you in first place then no one should be doing them.
    • Consider your own follow up or next steps once the task is completed. What is your willingness or commitment to the follow up?
  • Experiment.
    • Design experiments to see what works. These can be valuable thought exercises to test how much you actually want something done.
    • Once complete, assess what’s been done, identify the benefit, what you would change next time, what you have learned from this, and how you can apply what you’ve learned from it.

- What delegation strategies have worked best for you in your own business/ what have you learned in the process that you can share w other entreps?

  • Look at tasks you are delaying actually doing- you probably don’t like doing them, so you should get someone else to do them. Focus on what’s best for you.
    • For me, having someone do my calendaring/scheduling was crucial. I hated doing it and was turning down good clients because I hated the scheduling aspects of things. .
  • Ask yourself what things you’d work on if you had 30% more time. These will usually be things that you enjoy.

(Reader's Note- Take Action! Incase you missed our Delegation Worksheet, download your own free copy here! It's fun!)

- Why do you think this is so tricky for entreps to master?

  • Most coaches and other service professionals don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They don’t think that they are building a business. They consider themselves as practitioners of a particular kind of cool service.
  • Because they are not that good at back office skills, they undervalue them. They therefore don’t know how much they are losing by not having those skills covered. They’re not aware that other people do this better.
  • They also overfocus on direct financial expenditure as opposed to opportunity cost. They calculate how much it will cost to hire a particular person for a task, but they don’t estimate how much it’s costing them to build their business slowly.
  • Coaches in general are idealistic, which is both a strength and a weakness. We tend to focus more on cool ideas than the boring details of execution. When it comes to delegation, we create a fantasy of how delegation will be without asking critical questions. When hiring someone, they should avoid asking “fit” questions and instead ask behavioral interview questions, (e.g. “tell me about a time that you were resourceful?” “tell me about a time when you solved a technical problem?”)

- What is your best advice for those struggling with this part of their business?

  • Focus on the nuts and bolts of your business. Don’t underestimate the value of the routine day to day tasks, such as invoicing/proofreading. The proper execution of these tasks is critical for doing business effectively. Every service professional should first think ‘what will my back office look like’ and build on that.
  • Don’t get carried away by flavor of the month. New technology fades and you don’t have to master all of it yourself.
  • Spend some time thinking about what you are trying to create, what you enjoy, what’s exciting, what drew you to it, what you know about yourself, what turns you on vs what you are not so good at.

Special thanks again to the invaluable insights provided by Michael!

A few additional resources on this topic can be found at:

Coming up next in our Summer Blog Series:

Doing it all.., what's it really costing you?

  • Being busy vs productive
  • How to best prepare to work with a firm like ours

Say what? Now I'm a leader?!

  • How to effectively manage delegated tasks
  • Perspective and goal setting with your team

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