15 April 2016

Learn to delegate before that monkey
becomes a gorilla.

Many businesses are created and function to solve a problem. It goes without saying then that the master problem solver is often the person at the head of the business: the CEO. But what kinds of problems should they be solving?

Most CEOs have risen to their rank because they know how to solve problems and make things happen. This admirable quality brings with it other hidden problems. We all know the saying ‘the buck stops here’, and it is essentially true: leaders hold ultimate responsibility for what happens in an organisation.

However, while CEOs are held to account for everything in their company, no one CEO can do it all alone – especially not in complex, modern organisations. This means there will be blind spots in corporate oversight; areas of activity where the leader has to trust in the efficacy of employees. This is why it is so important to get hiring right.

When a leader is surrounded by people they can trust to do a job, it frees both the leader to concentrate on high level functions as well as the employee to take ownership of their role. The CEO then fulfils a role as a mentor and coach, carefully measuring and assessing their charges, stepping in when required to lead by example and offer experience and insight.

Because of their authority and status, CEOs often have to carry a monkey or two on their back – problems offloaded to them by inexperienced staff, underperforming department heads or overworked C-suite colleagues. These monkeys unfortunately can grow into gorillas, and before long, the CEO is cleaning up a lot of gorilla mess and taking their eye off the ball.

Another issue is that people who are good at something usually like to do that thing, which means problem-solving CEOs find it hard to knock back a challenge. This is a great trait, of course, but it can lead to overload and even burnout, with the CEO putting out spot fires rather than overseeing operations and strategy. This is an unwise use of time and resources.

The smart CEO needs to learn how to delegate. They have to be aware of their leadership style and how that style interacts with colleagues and key employees.

One simple method of thinking about delegation is to apply this five-step process, whereby you assess:

  1. The nature and severity of the problem presented
  2. The employee tasked to deal with the problem
  3. The employee’s capacity to handle the problem
  4. What guidance may have to be provided to help them solve the problem in line with strategic imperatives
  5. How best to mentor and support

Once the assessment process is conducted, the CEO will need to monitor and provide feedback to the employee until the problem is resolved. So rather than accepting the monkey, so to speak, it becomes a matter of the CEO helping the employee become a better monkey trainer. This creates greater capability and confidence in the employee, and allows leaders to use their experience and knowledge in the best possible way.

Very few leaders have the luxury of being completely removed from their employees’ problems. Learning how to guide and mentor your employees will help to bring out the best in both them and you.

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