Q: I've heard you talk about "hands-off" management. Isn't that a dereliction of my responsibility as the owner of my company?
A: Dereliction? It's anything but. Hands-off management has sometimes been derisively compared to some Victorian-age version of governmental laissez-faire. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Hands-off management is really just another weapon in the arsenal of the small-business owner. It allows the business owner to get more quality work done in less of his or her own limited time.
As the owner of a small business, you're probably often frustrated by the lack of hours in a week. "If only I could work more hours; if only there were more hours in a week." Well there are more hours in week-and they're all around you. They go by the names of Sue and John and Phil. Moreover, they're dying to make your life easier and to build their own skills, at the same time. It's those five or six employees working for you that can add hours to your week, to your life, to your free time. Just as important, they can breathe new life into your company. Recall when you first started your business. Every function you performed was done your way. After a while, when people asked why you did some things a certain way, you probably said, "Because it's the best way." Well, it is certainly one way, but it may not be the best way. Sue John, or Phil may have a better way-a way to allow your business to grow faster, bigger and more profitabable.
Therefore, you must take the first step. Understand that others can perform some of your duties as well or better than you can. Loosening the strings doesn't diminish your importance; it increases it. And continue to remind yourself that, with only so many hours in a day or week, you are limited by those hours.
Start to practice hands-off management. Every day, give your employees more tasks and responsibilities. It's perfectly OK to tell them how you handle each such task and, of course, tell them why you do some things a certain way. Then, reassure them that you want them to experiment, to find better ways of producing the product, delivering the service, billing the client, generating new sales. Let them know several important things. You expect and respect failure. That you learned from your mistakes and they will learn from theirs. Remind them of the great confidence you have in them. And pledge to them that you are there to help if they run into trouble. Let them know that although business has been good up to this point, it can't get better without even more help from them.
You must spend more of your time on the grand vision of where the business is going. It wasn't that long ago when we had a bright, decent man in the White House: Jimmie Carter. He was known as a hands-on manager. Nothing happened in his administration without his involvement. Well, President Carter will go down in history as a nice person, but an ineffective leader and a one-term president. His successor, Ronald Reagan, was just the opposite. He was a renowned for delegating just about everything. History remembers him as a strong leader, and the people rewarded him with a second term and a warm spot in their hearts.
When you retire, don't let your business retire with you. Build it now so it lasts for generations. Begin by practicing hands-off management; get out of the way of your employees.
Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of Semper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors of Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.