The Balance of Freedom and Control

I fight confusion in working with business owners all over the country.  It’s a confusion I’ve fought in the past.  That confusion is this: how business owners lead their team and delegate their work.  More specifically, business owners seem to think it is necessary that they know everything going on internally with their company, and externally with their customers.  It’s shocking when I tell them that there will be more and more things that they do NOT know about in their company as they grow their team.  It doesn’t dawn on them that they must lose some Control if they ever want to grow.

Examples of Control

1.  Remaining on all of the Basecamp feeds just to keep an eye on project management (even though a Project Manager has been hired).

2.  Reconciling their own bank accounts (even though a qualified accountant works there).

3.  Calling every new referral back (even though a qualified Business Development Manager could do that).

Think about it.  Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, eventually had to give up control over things he used to do with his own two hands.  But as Apple hired more qualified people, implemented better internal processes and sold more computers, Jobs had to give up knowing what was going on in so many parts of the company.   Giving up control is a part of growth.

In response to my coaching in this important area, a lot of business owners want to then remain small, one-man companies and fight the need to “not know.”  But real leaders are actually leading people.  Leaders have to have followers.  Leaders have employees.  Growing big is not for some people, but learning to hire, fire and give vision to employees has made me a better person.  I’ve learned what I’m not good at, I’ve learned how to build a culture where I trust people (and they trust me), and I’ve learned to say, “I don’t know, what do you think?”  Now, we can change the lives of more customers than before.

Accepting Freedom

So what are the benefits of giving over control to a team you trust?  For me, it’s been Freedom.  I have been given a gift I didn’t anticipate when I decided to grow our company.  I don’t get that many emails anymore.  I don’t have to remember as many things as I used to.  I get to let others guide my day, freeing my mind to think about large visions of the future, instead of the short-term decisions of making appointments, returning calls and reviewing tax returns.  It’s a wonderful thing to receive freedom while giving others control.

But the perfect balance of Freedom and Control does not come without work.  This gift is something you receive after years of training, pouring yourself into the lives of other people and becoming a servant.  You have to realize you don’t know everything; you have to own the vision of the company but let others perform the execution.  Will they execute your strategy the way you would?  The answer is definitely “No”.  So what will you do with that?  Will you take control back and do it your way?  If you make that a habit you will begin the process of building a culture of uncertainty and confusion.  Your team will never know how to please you because your desires and directions will come with ambiguity as you try to remain in control of an ever-growing and more complex enterprise.

There is No Democracy in Vision

Does the balance of Freedom and Control sound like something you want to do?  Good! Go serve more customers.  Change their lives.  Hire a team and watch your life change.  As a word of caution – don’t ever give up the vision-setting process.  Some business owners wonder, “what will I do if I give my work to others?”  You will continue the important process of setting vision, innovating for the future and protecting the brand of your company.  Setting vision is not part of a democracy.  You can get input from your team, but you can’t delegate this role.  You, as the owner, must set vision and communicate it to your team and your customers.  Always own the company vision.

So how do you begin the process of enjoying the benefits of giving up Control and receiving Freedom in return?

  1. Make a list of every role you still perform in your company.  Don’t get too detailed.  We’re looking for the 30,000 foot view.
  2. Then sort the list in order from Easiest to Delegate to Hardest to Delegate.  In making this determination, consider how much investment in training will have to go with the delegation of the role.
  3. The easiest role you come up with can be the one you either delegate to a current team member, or hire someone else to perform.  Maybe the new hire can take three roles off of your list at once!
  4. Begin the process of setting the vision for your company and sharing that vision with the new hire.  This will take time.  For a time, you may have to give instructions on executing the roles too.  But explain the execution phase very loosely.  After about 6 months or so, let them begin playing with their own forms of execution.  Your company will be better because of it (if you’ve hired properly).
  5. Each ‘tactical’ role you give up should be replaced with a ‘strategic’ role.  For example, when you give up filling out forms, you can replace it with journaling (read about the Big Ideas Journal here), which is what I call ‘Planned Thinking’.  If you give up going to technical conferences, replace these with more visionary conferences (read about Thriveal’s Deeper Weekend Learning Gathering here).
  6. Never stop preaching your vision, training your team and serving them by giving them what they need to deliver top-notch execution to your customers.

Build Your Business Profitably

One last note – you can’t give up roles that are directly responsible for bringing cash into your company without big profit margins.  When it was just you doing all of the work, you would also turn your work over to a customer and they would give you money for it (and hopefully it was profitable work).  As you move out of these roles, someone else will replace you, and the customer will give you money for what your new employee has performed.  They are not going to directly pay you to build vision for your company.  So, in reality, the new work you will be doing will not be bringing in any money.  So make sure the work your team is doing has enough margin in it to also pay you to continue building vision.  I made this mistake and it hurt our firm pretty bad.  Now that we have corrected this situation, I’m more at ease to hire others to do the execution, while I keep my eye focused on the future.  Of course, if you are in a business that cannot create large margins, then you will have to double the output or volume of work and/or product to be able to experience this balance of Freedom and Control.

This is a beautiful balance, and one that confuses many that are involved – from the owner to the customer.  But with diligence, you can build an enterprise that thrives while growing, changes the lives of those you are serving and produces more visionary leaders in your enterprise.  Here’s to your growth!

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