50 Shades of Delegation

62-delegation-pic1-17oct2016After interviewing over 150 founder-led companies, some pretty clear themes have come into focus. One of the top 10 issues you struggle with is the issue of delegation.

The truth is, delegation isn’t a new issue. Countless books, articles, studies, leaders, and professional development gurus have covered the issue over the years.

What you often get is “50 Shades of Delegation.” Everything from delegating or automating a simple task to removing an entire functional area from your brain space. Some have even reached business nirvana by delegating the growth and leadership of their entire business to someone else.

But a new wave of entrepreneurial leaders are starting and growing businesses and putting their own twist on the subject.

The word delegation has its roots in the Latin word, delegatus. The Oxford dictionary traces the meaning to the phrase “to send as a representative.” For many, this meant a hierarchical leader sent someone on a mission for him or her.  In business, this meant the CEO would “delegate” certain responsibilities, tasks, issues, projects, or functional areas and an individual would assume these responsibilities on behalf of the CEO or their boss in their “chain of command.”

But, a shift is occurring. It’s gaining speed. If you are not listening, you’ll miss it. And, it occurred to me while I was interviewing Eric Cope, Co-founder & CEO of Smile Squared, that’s it’s time to call attention to it.

Over the course of 150 interviews, you have taught me something profound…that it’s no longer about delegation of authority…granting permission…or being “sent as a representative” on behalf of you, the CEO. It’s about being a delegate of the mission…the higher purpose…the reason for being…not necessarily the owner.

In some ways this has made it even more challenging to be a Startup CEO and delegate because you get super excited about your mission. Simon Sinek with his book, Start With Why, Blake Mycoskie with TOMS Shoes, Eric Cope with his toothbrush mission, and many others remind us that delegation today is about our team members being delegates of the mission, not the largest equity owner.

This may not seem like a big deal and it may even seem obvious to many of you. But, I think this subtlety reminds us that as the Founder & CEO of a fast growing, scalable startup, our reason for being will be the biggest source of motivation when we ask people on our team to carry the torch on something we just can’t do ourselves…for the mission…for our team…not just on behalf of us as the Founder & CEO.

Therefore, delegation today is more about a shared ownership in a higher purpose, than it is maximizing revenue for the largest equity owner or venture capitalist. Delegation today is about helping the members of our team match their unique strengths to a part of our startup mission that helps to bring that brave new worldly positive impact alive and growing sustainably.

Perhaps, then, delegation discussions might focus more on questions like:

  • Is everyone clear on the more positive impact the company is trying to have on the world and do they know their part in making it happen?
  • What are the strengths of my team members and what does the mission require?
  • Are team members who look to please me, as the CEO, the right fit for a company culture focused on team members working for the mission?
  • What are the behaviors we expect from team members who are delegates of the mission rather than delegates of a boss?
  • Instead of “holding someone accountable” for delegated tasks, what if we asked, “how have you moved the mission forward this month?”

What do you think?

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