By James Cannon Johnston

The CEO job changes at each stage of growth. The one constant is delegation to your managers. Delegation has to be retooled over and over. When you get it wrong, you burn yourself out or hold your business back or both. There are always three paths to choose from:

  • Abdicate. “I wash my hand of this. I’ve made it my manager’s problem now. She’ll sink or swim.”
  • Micromanage. “I’ll watch every move my employee makes and counsel and correct him in everything he does. I won’t let him fail.”
  • Delegate. This is the optimal path. The recipe for effective delegation is:
    1. Pick someone who can succeed at what you are about to require.
    2. Define target results clearly. You own the definition of success. This is usually not what you are delegating.
    3. Give the manager authority to make a plan. Insist that it include interim goals, action steps, and ways to measure progress.
    4. Approve the plan after needed iterations. Give authority.
    5. Monitor closely.
    6. Intervene when results fall short in an important way. Don’t let it drift. Don’t let it become your problem. Don’t accept the “monkey” back. Rather, ask the manager for the recovery plan. Keep the monkey on the manager’s back.[1]

If you figure out you picked the wrong person, you’ll have to do some micromanaging until you get the right person. If you figure out you had the wrong definition of success, change it.

[1] When I refer to the “monkey” I’m thinking of one of the most influential articles ever published in the Harvard Business Review:Who’s Got the Monkey?” by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass. It first appeared in 1974 and was included in the HBR again in 2007 with commentary by Steven R. Covey.

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