Delegate, or Die

I attended a Missouri Venture Forum panel discussion on August 11. The title of the discussion was “Getting the Help You Need—Advisors, Mentors, Partners, Employees”. I thought it was well worth my time. As a matter of fact, I thought this would make a good refresher course for some of my friends who’ve been in business for themselves for a while.

Do do that voodoo that you do so well
Cole Porter

A recurring theme in the discussion was the idea that as an entrepreneur, you cannot do it all. You have to delegate tasks, and authority. (“Delegate or Die” was how one participant crudely, but effectively, put it.) If you insist on taking on every role in your small business, you’re going to do none of them very well and your business will suffer.

Often, we start a business with the thought that “I can do it way better than ‘X’, and for less”, or “I’m tired of working for corporations”, or “Why don’t I look at going into a business I’m good at and I enjoy?” We think we know how to do, or how to make, that thing and that’s all we need to be concerned about. That initial burst of enthusiasm soon gives way to cold, cruel reality, however.

The Hats an Entrepreneur Must Wear (fr. MVF handout)

In addition to doing what you went into business for in the first place, you’re doing a lot more things you don’t like, things for which you’re ill-equipped. Things like accounting, marketing, sales, customer relations, human resources, compliance, and on and on. You find out pretty quickly that there aren’t enough hours in a day or enough days in a week to get everything done. The master is now the slave.

Your dreams turn quickly into nightmares. You’re not doing the things you love often enough or well enough because you have to play all the roles that others played for you in a larger corporation. If you don’t learn to delegate the things you don’t like to do and/or don’t do well, your business is running you, instead of the other way around.

There’s a book, “The E-Myth“, that explains this dilemma clearly (in it, most of us are “technologists”) and suggests a way out of it. Their suggestion? Learn to delegate the tasks that you don’t want — or don’t know how — to do. This may require an enormous leap of faith for some. Learning how to trust others, as well as learning how to come up with realistic expectations for yourself and others, can be extremely difficult — especially when you’re a perfectionist.

Don’t worry about perfection. You’ll never achieve it.
Salvador Dali

Unfortunately, many people who are driven to entrepreneurship are perfectionists. Their unreasonable expectations for themselves translate into unreasonable expectations for those with whom they do business. Their overwhelming need to control often kills their business before it has a chance.

Ironic, isn’t it, that fear of failure can drive you closer to it?


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Posted in Leadership

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