If you’re a former manager founding his or her first company, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news? You know more about startup leadership than most new entrepreneurs. The not-so-good news? The way you’ve been taught to think about delegation is dangerous.
What do I mean by that? Achieving your vision requires tasks to be done, of course, but leaders who dole out duties the way they would as a task manager are micromanaging at best. Typically, they also dilute their vision, upset their managing team, and waste the whole staff’s time.
What should executives delegate? Development and communication of their vision or a way of critical thinking itself. Despite how difficult it can be to give up some control of the company’s future, founders and CEOs — at least, those who want their companies to grow — have no other choice but to trust their managing team.
From Your Mind to Managers’
Founders bring the vision to the table. But unless they want to work around the clock, they have to help their managers understand what it looks like in practice:
1. Dream as a team.
Have you ever noticed how ideas only take shape once you’ve let them out of your head? Discussing your vision forces you to articulate it, which gives others a chance to shore up its weak spots and improve its strengths.
Start with your statement of purpose, which Graham Kenny of consulting group Strategic Factors argues should actually be the foundation for your vision: What is it your company actually exists to accomplish? Lifestyle brand Life Is Good’s is “to spread the power of optimism,” while beverage company Honest T’s is “to create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages.”
Whatever you want to accomplish, think about how the world might look if you succeed. That’s your vision. If you want to improve performance reviews, for instance, your vision might be “a world where managers clearly communicate and employees constantly grow.”
2. Create a lookbook.
What if one or more members of your managing team can’t picture the future you have in mind? Communicate it aesthetically. When I worked for an interior design company, my clients often struggled to articulate what they wanted. It wasn’t until I created a lookbook of styles that my clients could point at that I realized how powerful visual communication could be.
At my current company, Ontraport, our designers create mood boards to check their understanding of the vision and get the creative team on the same page. Our product team uses wireframes to show the engineering team what the product should look like prior to it being built. I’ve created a printed focus guide that every team member can reference. Depending on your product, visual or audio may be your best bet.
3. Make a big-picture project map or model.
Once your management team sees the vision, show them the path. While it seems obvious, employees must understand how their work plays into the bigger picture, but most don’t. Mapping out models that show how each task or role fits into the larger vision helps your management team then communicate the vision to their team members.
When the marketing team at my company started growing, I mapped the customer life cycle. We now create projects that correlate to a particular stage in the model. I then created similar maps for the client experience and the engineering teams. “It makes so much more sense when you connect all the work together,” one manager told me.
Don’t assume your managers are mind readers. Plot your starting point, your immediate next steps, and your one-year goals. When possible, include tools that team members will need, giving managers ample time to introduce unfamiliar ones.
Present your map or model with step-by-step explanations to your leadership team. Then, email it to the broader staff so managers can reference it during department-specific meetings. Trust your managers to break the vision into task-sized pieces and assign them to their teams.
You may have a vision, but you can’t achieve it until the rest of your team sees it. Give your managers a peek first, tweaking it via their feedback, before using tools like maps to help convey it to the broader company. That may be a different style of delegation than you’re used to — but then again, is anything about entrepreneurship what you’re used to?