I love the idea of obsoleting myself. In fact, the idea of obsoleting myself has been my goal ever since I started managing people years ago. Because only when you obsolete yourself can you effectively delegate.
Now why would you want to make yourself not needed anymore? And what does this have to do with delegating to your team?
The concept of obsoleting yourself is somewhat of a leap of faith. You are betting that there will be higher-level work you can do by having your team be able to do the work. You’re also betting that you’ll gain significant leverage by effectively delegating.
And leverage is where it’s at as CEO.
As CEO, you have to be thinking about how you get your team to do as much as possible. In fact, your goal should be that the company runs perfectly if you are not involved.
There are two very practical reasons you want to work hard to delegate to your team:
A. You could leave the company.
The true sign of an effective manager is when you take yourself out of the picture. Does the company still run effectively without you? If does then you’re on the right track.
Besides, stuff happens. And there is the real possibility that you will not be with the company at some point. After all, none of us will live forever.
You should want the company to go on seamlessly without you. The only way that will happen is effectively delegating to your team.
Having a team capable of carrying the load frees you up to do the work that only you can do. That’s your goal.
That leads directly to the second practical reason you want to delegate to your team:
B. Delegation allows you to do things only you, the CEO, can do.
You can stay very busy as CEO and accomplish very little if you’re not careful. It’s really easy to get comfortable doing tactical work that your team can do.
That’s why you need to aggressively delegate to your team:
- Delegating frees you up to do things only you the CEO can do, and…
- Delegating gives you the time to do those things only you can do, and…
- Delegating motivates your team because your team will work on higher level stuff
The problem is you don’t have leverage when you’re just starting.
When you’re starting out, it’s just you and a few others. There is no one to delegate to, so what do you do?
You and your teammates essentially divide up the work.
And you, the CEO, focus on what you’re expertise is. You focus on engineering if you’re an engineer. You focus on marketing if you’re a marketing expert.
At the start you are an individual contributor AND the CEO. Over time, you will become just the CEO.
When do you make the transition to just being CEO? A word of warning:
You are on the wrong path if you think being CEO is all about your team doing everything while you sit back and pass judgment on the work your minions are doing.
That’s not what being a great CEO is about.
Yes, you want to leverage your team as much as possible. But your goal is freeing yourself up to do the work that only you, the CEO, can accomplish. Then you can focus on the big picture issues.
The reality is you’ll be transitioning, or have a mindset of transitioning, from the day you start as CEO.
There is no one to delegate to, so you do the work.
You do what’s needed. You’ll do everything from working on your core expertise to taking out the trash. It’s all hands on deck at the start.
Then you start adding people:
- Engineers typically come first, then….
- You’ll probably add a controller/finance person pretty fast, then…
- You’ll add manufacturing if you’re making a physical product, then…
- You’ll add marketing as you get ready to sell your product, then…
- Perhaps some inside sales people, and finally…
- You’ll add sales people last.
Why do you add sales people last?
Let me clarify this a bit. You might add a pure sales person or two, but you’ll want to wait on adding a VP of Sales because:
It’s tough to find a really good sales VP early on.
The reality is a great VP of Sales is just not going to be interested in joining your company when revenue is low. And you’re going to be the best sales person your company has.
You are the one with the most passion about your business. You know the ins and outs better than anyone else.
So it only makes sense that you are the one selling. Plus, there’s another huge benefit you get by being the company’s first salesperson:
You know how the sales process works.
You know what the selling process looks like. And that’s huge because you will do a much better job hiring a VP Sales that fits what you truly need.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of not staying involved once you have no more line responsibilities.
Just because all the line functions in the company are filled doesn’t mean you aren’t involved in the day-to-day company responsibilities. You don’t get to sit back and watch your team work.
Yes, your team will be doing the work (freeing you up to do other work that only you can do). But they will be working based on the goals that you and the team set.
You’ll be constantly monitoring the various parts of the organization through review meetings. Plus you’re going to be having regular 1:1’s (I used to like to do this weekly) with your direct reports.
Oh. One other bit of advice is giving your team the room to make mistakes. Making mistakes and then learning from the mistakes is a key part of how people learn and grow.
The trick as a manager is letting your team make small mistakes. But, at the same time, don’t let your team make any company killing or career mistakes. You need to step in before anything that drastic happens.
Many times you are happily surprised to find that your team not only executes well, but you find your team comes up with a better way of doing things. That’s why you hire really smart people and let them run.
Now you know the tricks of effective delegation. Remember to keep the long-term goal of obsoleting yourself in mind as your company grows. Then, you’ll have the leverage you need to work on the things only you the CEO can do.