For most founders starting their first businesses, the single hardest thing is to manage their workers efficiently. Delegating work is an incredibly sophisticated balancing act, and it takes a lot of experience to be able to pull it off like boss. (Pun very much intended)
The first problem many leaders face is that they can’t let go of control. Usually people at the top got promoted by doing things faster, better, more efficiently than the rest of their peers. Doing things by themselves doesn’t just come natural to them, their experiences actively suggest that it’s also the best way to get things accomplished. This transition from a problem solver to a delegator is a hard one to tackle, but it’s the only way to run a business. And here comes the balancing act. It’s the delegation where most founders make either one or both of two common mistakes.
The first mistake is to feel like now, with the corner office, we can finally fought our way to the top so we can lay back and let people run things for us. But to delegate tasks and responsibility in this very hands-off, abdicating approach is actually highly counterproductive. It’s comfortable to assume that things are getting done without us being present, but the problem is that a lack of communication and oversight puts way too much stress and responsibility on the shoulders of the subordinates.
The second mistake is obviously to fall on the other side of the horse and to heavily micromanage. Of course, we naturally want to take control, reduce uncertainty, and exercise authority. But this method is barely any better than to do everything by ourselves and it’s almost as tiring (if not more). It strips the subordinates of their agency, creating an unhappy and ineffective environment, with our workers reduced to being bio-robots.
To give you a really weird example, a company should work like an octopuses’ nervous system. These creatures have a big central mind, but about two-thirds of their neurons are in their arms, not in their head. In other words, their tentacles have a mind of their own and act autonomously from the central brain. In practice, if the central brain sends out a message that it’s hungry, the tentacles all start to act on their own to find food. It’s a perfect synergy.
So, to go back to businesses, we obviously don’t have a hive mind, so how can we be as efficient as an octopus? By leveraging a different, but very human strength; communication. Let me give you three methods on how a great boss can lead effectively, while empowering their subordinates to have a mind of their own, and flourish.
1.) The “Ladder of Leadership approach was created by David Marquet, and it’s a powerful tool for both leaders and workers. It basically gives us two sets of ladders, and show that if bosses exercise better communication with their subordinates, they can inspire them to gain voice, authority and ownership. The good thing about this method is that it’s not forcing anything on the workers, rather asks leaders to step up as level 4 or 5 bosses, and lifting everyone else’s roles in the progress. This is not only a more enjoyable work dynamic, but it taps into the knowledge of the entire team, not just a single person’s.
2.) The “Task Relevant Maturity” is actually a very simple framework that determines how to delegate, monitor, and manage performance. It basically states that even senior team members can be total noobs in some tasks, while juniors can be experts in others. (That’s probably have never been more true than in Web 3.0. by the way...) So the idea here is that instead of a blank management style, we can use our urge to micromanage to understand the specific skillsets of each of our workers, and utilise them properly to tackle problems they are best suited to find a solution for.
3.) And that brings as to the main philosophy that is somehow missed by most founders. Once communication is fluid and dynamic, and workers are empowered and efficiently utilised, we just focus on one thing: Delegate problems, not tasks. When we want to reach a goal, our mind is naturally in task accomplishing mode, but once we want to delegate those those tasks we need to rephrase them as a problem. The difference is that tasks are vague and lack specific goals, therefore they are not very motivating. But on the other hand humans are excellent problem solvers, and love to come up with creative solutions. So to spark critical thinking, we need to leverage that. That’s why the best leaders don’t ask their workers to do chores, but to bring creative solutions to specific problems.