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Practice "Hands-Off" Management

Let go of some time-sucking duties, and see what you can really get accomplished.

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Q:I've heard you talk about "hands-off" management.Isn't that a dereliction of my responsibility as the owner ofmy company?

A:Dereliction? It's anything but. Hands-off management hassometimes been derisively compared to some Victorian-age version ofgovernmental laissez-faire. Yet nothing could be farther from thetruth. Hands-off management is really just another weapon in thearsenal of the small-business owner. It allows the business ownerto get more quality work done in less of his or her own limitedtime.

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As the owner of a small business, you're probably oftenfrustrated by the lack of hours in a week. "If only I couldwork 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 ownskills, at the same time. It's those five or six employeesworking for you that can add hours to your week, to your life, toyour free time. Just as important, they can breathe new life intoyour company. Recall when you first started your business. Everyfunction you performed was done your way. After a while, whenpeople asked why you did some things a certain way, you probablysaid, "Because it's the best way." Well, it iscertainly one way, but it may not be the best way. Sue John, orPhil may have a better way-a way to allow your business to growfaster, bigger and more profitabable.

Therefore, you must take the first step. Understand that otherscan perform some of your duties as well or better than you can.Loosening the strings doesn't diminish your importance; itincreases it. And continue to remind yourself that, with only somany hours in a day or week, you are limited by those hours.

Start to practice hands-off management. Every day, give youremployees more tasks and responsibilities. It's perfectly OK totell them how you handle each such task and, of course, tell themwhy you do some things a certain way. Then, reassure them that youwant them to experiment, to find better ways of producing theproduct, delivering the service, billing the client, generating newsales. Let them know several important things. You expect andrespect failure. That you learned from your mistakes and they willlearn from theirs. Remind them of the great confidence you have inthem. And pledge to them that you are there to help if they runinto trouble. Let them know that although business has been good upto this point, it can't get better without even more help fromthem.

You must spend more of your time on the grand vision of wherethe business is going. It wasn't that long ago when we had abright, decent man in the White House: Jimmie Carter. He was knownas a hands-on manager. Nothing happened in his administrationwithout his involvement. Well, President Carter will go down inhistory as a nice person, but an ineffective leader and a one-termpresident. His successor, Ronald Reagan, was just the opposite. Hewas a renowned for delegating just about everything. Historyremembers him as a strong leader, and the people rewarded him witha 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 practicinghands-off management; get out of the way of your employees.

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

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

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