Today’s newsletter starts off with a quick pulse check: how is your mental state at the end of the day? Do you feel accomplished, as though you’ve completed your primary priorities, or is your mind still busy scrambling across the list of things you didn’t quite get to?
In 2007 I went to work for a hi energy founder CEO. This guy was a hard charging, was the epitome of the hustle culture, and expected everyone to work as many hours as he did. The company ramped from $0 to $95 in less than 5 years. What was the problem then you ask?
This founder/CEO, for all his strengths and ability, had one habit that ultimately led to the destruction of his company. This CEO could not let go, allow his team to function and felt the need to be involved in everything. As the company grew to over 300 employees, his inability (whether by choice or sub-consciously), to let go, he could not keep up with everything.
He consistently worked 16 hours a day, never took a vacation, and ultimately started making very bad decisions. As his # 2, I watched all of this unfold and watched the decisions he made turn the company from a profitable, growth oriented company that provided careers for over 300 people, to a shell of a company that eventually folded. One of the hardest parts of my professional career was to close down this company and lay off some very talenetd people that did not deserve this crash landing (this was the pivotal point in my life where I decided to start my own company).
A $95M company down to $0, all due to the inability to let go…..
Leaders today are faced with more pressure than ever. Oftentimes short-staffed, leaders are picking up the responsibilities of others while continuing to ensure the operation moves forward smoothly. The to do list piles on as stress continues to grow.
While adding efficiency into operations to reduce administrative burden and stress is a long-term effort, there is one thing that you can do for immediate impact on your own level of daily stress (and your team’s): find a way to take a step back from minute details that do not require your attention. To put it another way: let go. To many, this may be easier said than done, so before we discuss the critical reasons for why this is important, we’ll discuss a few tips for how to do it.
Letting Go Strategy One: Assess your routine, and delegate
For one week, keep a rough list of your activities. At the end of the week, read through them. Consider a few things:
- What are you doing that doesn’t add value? Stop doing them.
- What are you doing that someone on your team could do? Delegate them.
Think through who on your team is interested in promoting. Provide them a stretch assignment to help them develop and prepare for their next role. Be sure to follow up with recognition and feedback. You’ll be streamlining your priorities, and simultaneously building your bench.
Letting Go Strategy Two: Schedule regular status update meetings, and rely on them
Schedule meetings and build in tools to get status updates from your team. Rely on those consistent methods, as they will be your go-to for getting necessary updates for projects and regular operational needs. Remember: you hired a great team! If they need your input on an urgent item, they know how to reach you. Beyond that, allow them to make decisions and run their projects or units as they see fit, and know that you’ll get updates at the regularly scheduled time. No need for in-between check-ins.
Letting Go Strategy Three: Reduce unnecessary approval steps
Certainly, some business transactions or decisions require approval from you or other members of your leadership team. However, take a moment to review your business processes. What approval steps add value? What steps do not?
If you are not truly adding value (identifying mistakes, disapproving decisions, etc.), is your approval necessary? Similarly, if you are identifying mistakes or disapproving decisions, what training opportunities are there to correct the root cause rather than simply approving every transaction? Take the time to think through the full business process and the ideal state of the scenario – consider what it would take to get there, if you aren’t there yet.
Once you’ve taken a step back from some of these day-to-day details, not only will your team feel more empowered, you’ll likely feel more confident in the operations of your business and less inclined to think your involvement is necessary in every aspect of the organization.
For many people, of course, this is a challenging proposition. However, it is truly a critical effort to make for your organization. Both you and your business will sacrifice if you cannot let go – we will cover just four things at risk, though the comprehensive list is much longer.
Risk One: Stunted Team Growth
With a micromanager leader, any team is likely to experience heightened turnover. Especially among higher levels, you’re hiring skilled employees who want to be trusted to make decisions and run an organization. Over a decade ago, Daniel Pink had already popularized the concept of autonomy, mastery and purpose being driving factors of intrinsic motivation. If your leaders don’t have autonomy, and don’t have the ability to continue excelling because you’re in their way, they’re likely going to go elsewhere to find those intrinsic motivating factors. Or, perhaps even worse, they’ll stick around, but with little motivation to truly excel.
Beyond that, if a top-level leader is taking on assignments that others could effectively handle, they are creating both logistical and developmental challenges within their teams:
- They are likely creating a bottleneck in workflow, assuming that the leader likely has more on their plate than those at lower levels, and
- They are taking away a good developmental opportunity from a different employee, prohibiting their growth.
The more a leader gets unnecessarily involved in minute details and decision making processes, the less ability there is for team cohesion and dynamics to effectively form. The team itself is prevented from truly developing its own culture and process when it has a leader who overengineers workflows and micromanages assignments.
Risk Two: Stunted Personal Growth
In the realm of personal growth for the leader in question, a big dilemma is time. A leader that hasn’t learned to let go – who is micromanaging his or her team and hyper-involved in day-to-day decisions – has overcommitted their time. The time spent on these tasks cannot be spent on other, more fruitful tasks, that would allow the leader to truly grow.
Similarly, a leader may be working all hours of the day and night to complete their to-do list, determined to “make it all work”. However in this case, they are likely to burn out – a surefire way to prevent personal growth. Additionally, the leader may be burning bridges or exhausting resources by micromanaging their team. Instead of gaining allies and a strong network by empowering and supporting their staff, they are sending a message that their staff is not trusted. This eliminates an opportunity for support when working towards the leader’s own personal growth.
Risk Three: Stunted Organizational and Company Growth
As you can see, the risks continue to get larger in scale and gravity as we truly consider the consequences of a leader who cannot let go at work; the effects of each sacrifice compound on one another. The risk of company growth becomes inevitable once we consider the risks already discussed. In an organization with a leader who micromanages and over-involves his or herself in decisions, teams are prevented from growing, and the leader is prevented from growing. Naturally, there will continue to be downstream consequences to the company as a whole.
On a more granular perspective, depending on the role of the leader, the processes implemented by the leader may also prohibit company growth. For example, if the CEO personally is the one failing to let go of the details, there may be overly bureaucratic or regimented systems and processes in place that prevent the company from being nimble and agile. In today’s marketplace, this can have truly grave consequences if the company cannot compete at the necessary pace of change.
Risk Four: Unprotected Mental Health
The hints of mental health implications have already been sprinkled throughout our discussion today – the potential for burnout, the stress a leader might hold at the end of the day – but truly, it is a probable enough, and consequential enough of a risk that it must be mentioned separately.
A leader who involves his or herself in the day-to-day operations beyond what is required is risking their own mental health. At the beginning of this article, we discussed the constant train of work-related thoughts and priorities retained in your brain after leaving work – of course, this can be considered perfectly normal. However – where is the line drawn when it escalates to a problem? Eventually, it may increase to constant pain and fatigue, and burnout. Then, it may lead to anxiety or depression.
Having a balance between work and life, and a clear line of the priorities in each area is critical for protecting your mental health. If you are concerned that you may be putting yourself at risk in this area, it is always a good idea to seek help from a mental health professional.
Letting go is hard. Whether you are a founder or a high-level leader, it is of course true that you are essential to your organization. However, it is also essential to remember that your organization has a team of individuals who are skilled and competent, and can advance your organization without your involvement in every decision.
Take it slow – but be mindful of the importance of this strategic change that is necessary for your organization. Remember that the consequence of not letting go can be drastic – and while it may be a challenging transition, your personal well-being (and that of your team) will be improved in the long run.