How Effective SMB Business Leaders Delegate

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 10 Jun, 2021

"If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself, said John C. Maxwell, author of Developing the Leaders Around You. "If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate."  

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), "there is mounting evidence that delegating more responsibility for decision making increases productivity, morale, and commitment, all of which impact company culture." A Gallup survey of 143 CEOs found that "Those with high Delegator talent posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751 percent--112 percentage points greater than those CEOs with limited or low Delegator talent."  

Unfortunately, Gallup also found that "Entrepreneurs who have the natural ability to build teams and manage people are rare." For small and medium businesses SMBs, "Only one in four employer entrepreneurs -- business leaders who are founders of a company with at least one employee -- have high levels of Delegator talent."   

If You Want Something Done Right, Delegate?  

We've heard that if you want something done right, you should do it yourself. As Maxwell suggests, that's not always true. But entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of doing things themselves because when their companies were small, they did everything themselves. Or, as Gallup said, the focus is usually on "starting up" the business, and often entrepreneurs "get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of managing a business."  

Why We Resist Delegating  

There are a few reasons that business leaders resist delegation 

  • They don't trust employees to do a good job.  
  • They haven't organized the work so it can be delegated.  
  • They don't have a clear idea of success.  
  • They think doing things themselves is faster.  
  • They fear being shown up.  

Why These Reasons Don't Make Sense  

None of these make much sense if you want your business to grow.   

  • If you don't trust an employee to do a good job, you either hired the wrong person or needed to invest in some training to help the employee grow.   
  • It's common for executives to keep processes in their heads as the business grows. Projects like CRM management, document creation, and invoicing need structure. Taking the time to document how you want things done enables the person you delegate to clean up what's disorganized and keep it on track.   
  • If you don't know what you're looking for, you won't find it. Take a CRM, for example. What do you want the CRM to accomplish for your business? Is it a contact repository? Forecasting tool? Sales funnel? All of the above? Define the outcome, and you can delegate more easily.  
  • It's common for executives to think, "it takes me longer to explain it to someone else than to do it myself." That's probably true for a one-off task. But eventually, you become a bottleneck to your productivity and your business's growth.  
  • If you fear being shown up, something's wrong. You should want that! SAP CEO Jennifer Cunningham said, "You should hire people that are better than you, every time." Why? You can can get good at delegating tasks you don't like to people who are better at them. You learn from experts. And you have time to take on new projects.  

How Effective Leaders Delegate  

Once you've decided to start delegating, you need to know how to do it. HBR identifies eight steps to effective delegation 

  1. Pick the right person: It's not just about who can do it, but who deserves to do it or who needs to develop new skills.   
  2. Document specific tasks: You have to be clear about what the person is responsible for, get processes out of your head, and document them.  
  3. Be clear on the outcome: clarify success metrics and goals and how to report back on progress.  
  4. Provide the necessary resources: the training, budget, time, space, people they will need to succeed.   
  5. Create feedback loops: set regular check-ins and milestones, especially at first, to reduce the risk of missed expectations.  
  6. Encourage improvement: maybe there's a better way; improving the business is one reason you're delegating.  
  7. Let them shine: you want them to better than you because that's what is best for your business, and it will make employees more satisfied and loyal.  
  8. Tolerate mistakes: if there is a learning curve, let them learn from mistakes and successes alike.  

What Effective Leaders Delegate  

We've talked about how to delegate. Now let's look at what to delegate. There are a few rules of thumb from HBR that can help you get started.  

  • Tasks you don't like to do—What a relief to find someone who loves data entry!  
  • Work you're not good at—There's often a correlation between what you don't like and what you're not good at. Even better to turn over sales follow-up to someone that excels at it.  
  • Work that is below your pay grade—if you are paying yourself to do document preparation, expense reports, and appointment setting, you're paying too much.  
  • Work you don't have to complete—Can someone else do 80 percent of sales prospecting based on your personas, and you can analyze the results? Yes.  
  • Tasks that are documentable—You can delegate just about anything you can document and teach another person to do, like running reports, travel planning, or invoicing.   

Read: How American Microgrid Solutions delegates admin work to a virtual assistant team.

7 Habits of Highly Effective SMB Leaders  

Delegation is critical to SMB growth. But it's not the only trait of highly effective executives. To learn more about how to take your business to new levels of productivity and growth, download the ebook, "7 Habits of Highly Effective SMB Leaders." 


7 Skills of Highly Effective SMB Leaders