On Empowerment – a Jazz Quartet is not an Orchestra

1024 576 David DeWolf

When it comes to delegating responsibilities and empowering employees, perception is reality. I’ve recently learned this the hard way.

One of the most challenging transitions an entrepreneur must make is transitioning from a one-man band to an orchestra leader. In the early phases of a company, the entrepreneur puts the company on his back and wills its success. As the company grows, the company needs a leader that can facilitate the scale of the organization, conducting others to make beautiful music instead of just playing a song.  Many entrepreneurs are unable to make the jump and the board ends up bringing in a professional manager to replace him as CEO or support him as COO.

Over the past year and a half, as Three Pillar has grown and begun to scale, I have been keenly aware of this necessary transition and very focused on ensuring that I don’t fall into the one-man-band trap. I have deliberately attempted to delegate responsibilities and authority but have recently realized that I’ve transitioned the company more to a jazz quartet than the Philharmonic.

Why did this transition come up short? How do I intend to bring our musical ensemble to the next level? The following is my analysis of how we got where we are today and what I need to change to help orchestrate the rest of the transition – one that’s primed for scale.

  • I love business discussions – it’s critical that I continually remind myself that I love to dive into the meat of business decisions and discussions. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but I need to realize that this natural tendency places me into awkward situations. Our teammates often bring critical business decisions to me for collaboration and I naturally dive in to help them solve the problem. This participation, when not metered and handled appropriately, can undermine their authority and make others feel as though I am dictating direction as opposed to collaborating.
  • I catch the balls that are dropping – it’s my natural tendency to not let balls drop. If I see something falling through the cracks, I will go catch it.  When you’re orchestrating a team, your job is not to catch every ball, it’s to alert others to ensure that they are aware of the balls that need attention and to coach them into catching them. Instead of “helping others out,” I need to “help others help themselves.”
  • When in stress, I take charge – my natural reaction when dealing with stress is to take charge. I quickly assemble a team, build understanding, seek advice and perspective, attempt to build consensus, and give direction. This technique works; the team is quickly mobilized and action ensues. Unfortunately, I do this even when it’s not my responsibility to take charge (see #2 above). I need to get better at coaching leaders within the organization to rally the troops on their own behalf.
  • I need to focus more on my own duties – as CEO my responsibilities diverge from my duties more than any other position in an organization. My responsibilities are broad, but my day-to-day duties are quite narrow. A good CEO only acts upon what is not delegated, ensuring that his actions don’t contradict his words. I need to focus more of my time on continually painting a vision, communicating it 7 times, and repeating it another 7. Between building and orchestrating the team, navigating and communicating our vision (objectives, strategy, and culture), and making large capital decisions, I should have plenty on my plate. If I focus on excelling in these areas, it will naturally force others to focus on their own duties.

Based on this analysis, I believe that I have sent mixed messages to our organization regarding the authority and responsibilities that I am attempting to delegate. This undermines authority. I was able to delegate to a certain extent, but only orchestrated the team with a trumpet in hand. I need to put the instruments down and begin to conduct full-time. The reality is that I’m not as good of a musician as those that are supposed to be playing. The value I provide is a wider perspective that knows how to bring all of the pieces together into a masterpiece.

Who are some of the master delegators that you have worked with? How did they empower others with the appropriate authority? What techniques did they use to ensure that they were providing the right level of support for their team without overstepping their bounds?