By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO
I work with a lot of entrepreneurial founders and growth operators, some of whom are brilliant in their lane and all of whom are passionate about their goals. Whether the goals are for making the world a better place through their product/solution/service or building a company that employs and supports a lot of people, or maybe more selfishly to advance their own careers while making a ton of money – it cannot be done alone. Sometimes the genius leaders can ironically get in their own way if they’re not savvy enough to understand that the only way to truly achieve scale is through others. There’s booksmarts and then there’s streetsmarts. The booksmarts to identify an innovative technology or disruptive model that is useful to other companies and/or consumers is foundational, but executing at scale is equally important or no matter the widget, nobody will ever know about it. Scale takes delegation and releasing ownership.
Delegation can’t be haphazard; it requires discerning hiring practices, defined expectations, and thoughtful collaborative relations between individuals and teams. It requires proof points, but it also requires allowance to fail which is akin to an expectation to learn. Ultimately delegation of responsibilities – not simply tasks, but “responsibilities” – should be determined to go to individuals or teams that can execute on a deliverable faster, better, more cost-effectively, and more efficiently in general. 1+1=3 is the equation of multiples that happens when internal partnerships, symbiosis, healthy debate, and trust form efficiently within an organization.
Releasing ownership is sometimes easier said than done with certain founders and operators. Delegation is the action, but releasing ownership is a mentality that needs to be embraced. Embracing initial and ongoing imperfections, giving other leaders an opportunity to spread their wings and assert their own influence within the greater organization is critical. CEO’s must be intentional in this practice. Providing guidance and direction without being overbearing and controlling requires a self-awareness in style that is also critical yet often missed. If a founder has a successful 10M business with 20 people where she is involved in every strategic detail and many tactical matters too, but wants to scale the business to 50M then “change” must start with her. True leaders get things done through others and the most effective executives hire and develop others so well that their personal scope of tactical responsibilities all but go away. Releasing formal ownership via equity is also critical to smart founders….do you want 50% of a 50M business or 100% of a 10M business?
Ok, so you’re reading this thinking “this stuff should be obvious, should be inherent”. I agree, but that doesn’t mean it’s consistently put into proper practice. Delegation and dissemination of tactical and strategic responsibilities needs to be as defined as possible on the front end and that includes identifying the areas to be shared or areas TBD. Failing to have some definition is a recipe for disaster where all your efforts to bring on a COO/CRO/CMO/CTO/CXO/etc. will be wasted when he soon leaves for an opportunity elsewhere. Only mediocre leaders stick around in subpar conditions. And releasing ownership is more of a mental boundary that the best CEO’s/operators come to realize is in their own best interests. Of course, sometimes the CEO needs to dive into the weeds here and there, drive accountability to be emulated, and inspect what they expect……or they can teach their leaders to do so to the point it’s embedded in the cultural DNA of the organization. The best CEO’s work their way out of their functional responsibilities so they can focus on vision, strategy, commercialization, and what’s next.