Delegating Responsibility

At some point, you've got to let go a little.

By Rod Walsh

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I'm a business owner involved in the day-to-day operations of my business, but my business is getting so big that I think I need to begin delegating many of my responsibilities. How do I decide what needs delegating--and how can I trust my employees to handle things?

A: You've posed one of the most important questions in business. And how you handle this situation will determine the level of your success for many years to come. Will you continue to grow and prosper, or will you wake up to a nightmare? The fact that you realize the business is getting too large for you to manage is the first and, perhaps, the most important step.

Now it's time to look in the mirror and inventory your skills, your dreams and the needs of your business and yourself. As businesses grow, they become not merely larger versions of themselves, but rather new businesses with different dynamics. You must be willing to embrace real change. There's an old expression in business: "Grow or die." We think that's an oversimplification--many businesses die because they place too much focus on getting large for the sake of size itself. So let's assume you've thought about it and you really do want your business to expand.

Back to that inventory we mentioned. What are your personal strengths? If you're the greatest living salesperson, don't allow your ego to get in the way of giving up some real power. It might well be best for you to spend more time in sales and find someone else to act as the CEO, for example.

Now you'll want to take some time to "recruit" the best person to fill your new, open slot. In a perfect world, you've been thinking about this for some time and have been grooming someone. But it's not a perfect world, and your new CEO may have to be hired from outside the company. Many business owners are frightened by this prospect. Don't allow it to deter your dreams. Wherever your new CEO comes from, make certain all the pieces fit--does he or she share your vision of where the company should be in three, five and 10 years down the road? Can you see how his or her general ideas for implementing that vision have a good chance of success?

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When we talk about hiring the best person, we don't necessarily mean the candidate with the greatest paper resume or the one who's attended the finest university. What we're suggesting is that you have your antennae up for the person who most impresses you with his or her understanding of your vision and what the journey ahead looks like.

On the other hand, does this candidate have the personal confidence to challenge some of your own current methods? While you're not looking for someone to disrupt a successful business, you will need someone who is able to help you take your business to the next level. That's rarely easy. Many companies build to a sales level of a few million dollars and hit a wall they're never able to clear. This is an area in which your new CEO may have the greatest impact. By offering even minor changes to your successful operation, he or she will have you asking, "Why didn't I think of that?"

You asked about trusting your employees to perform new duties. First, they must trust you, too. They must trust that, in their new positions, you will give them not only new responsibilities to perform, but also the authority and the tools. And they must trust that you'll allow them to fail. In the Marine Corps, there's a term, "lifeboat leadership," that applies here. Your employees must have the confidence that you trust their skills and judgment, but everyone must also have confidence that the leader will throw them a rope when they get in over their heads. If they can trust you, you'll be able to trust them--after all, you already do.

So go ahead and take the plunge. Either hire new talent, or promote from within. Just always be there to lend support, the wisdom of your experience and, yes, constructive criticism when it's warranted. Your business will never be the same--but with proper planning and little fear of change, you'll be delighted with the results.

Rod Walsh and Dan Carrison are the founding partners of Semper Fi Consulting in Sherman Oaks, California and the authors ofSemper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of 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.

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