Recently, I went on a weeklong biking trip in a remote part of Oregon where cell phone service was nonexistent. At the end of the week, I overheard a group of young men placing bets on how many voicemails they would have waiting for them. For the man who was obviously the leader, the group guessed in the hundreds.
This man was clearly very important at his company because so many people depended on him daily. There was no doubt that he would spend countless hours making up for that week away. How many of his business wheels had altogether stopped spinning and would begin to turn again only upon his return?
Sound familiar? Many leaders don’t leave the office because they fear things will fall apart without their direct involvement.
When I re-entered civilization after that week, I had one voicemail. It was a 30-second message from my COO. She said she had hoped I had had fun and didn’t even assure me everything had run smoothly while I was gone. It went without saying.
If the regular flow of your company relies on your constant physical presence, you’re a slave to your job. Even worse, it’s hurting your company. Here are five steps that will set you free:
1. Change Your Mindset
First, understand that a leader’s mentality contributes to the dependent environment he or she creates. Constantly killing fires is frustrating on the surface, but it can also feel rewarding. The problem is as much about ego as it is organization. Your job is to create an organization that doesn’t need your constant presence.
If you truly want what’s best for your business and yourself, take an honest look at your motivation for this constant involvement. The ideal work situation depends on employees who are comfortable and confident in their roles and can solve problems independently.
2. See the Systems
Step back to examine your organization from a distance. From this perspective, isolate contributing systems and examine them individually. Work with your teams to write down the step-by-step execution of these systems so all of you fully understand exactly how they function and how to perfect them. Include everything, from bookkeeping to answering the phone.
3. Stop Doing the Work
A “job” requires a worker’s presence. Running a business does not. Recurring tasks? Adopt the following mantra: “Automate, delegate, or discard.” Distance yourself from repeating processes.
4. Hire the Right People
For perfected systems to work, you need the right workers to perform these specific tasks. We require several tests for potential hires, including drug and typing tests. We also consider eye contact, appropriate speech, and level of confidence during our interviews. These are hoops that must be negotiated before we award a job to a potential hire.
Be ruthlessly intentional about hiring people who possess the needed skills and embody the characteristics that matter most to your company. That goes for firing, too. Don’t be afraid to weed out people who are a poor fit for the tasks they need to complete — and for the company as a whole.
5. Streamline Communications
We’ve eliminated 80 percent of our group meetings simply by streamlining communications. Invest in the best technology for tools such as “group distribution” voicemail and email. Use them often. Improve your protocols, but keep them simple. Generally, people hate meetings, so cutting out unnecessary ones boosts morale.
Don’t Worry — You’re Still Leading!
Stepping back doesn’t mean stepping down. In fact, when you spend less time solving menial problems, you can spend more time leading. You’ll be able to focus on big-picture items to propel the company forward.
When you don’t have to be in the office as much, freedom in your schedule will allow you to prioritize the things you really love. This is why the few meetings I require are meaningful. We still conduct a weekly meeting to remind everyone that we’re a team, but we rarely need to talk about business because everything is covered by the systems we have in place. I also get to more fully enjoy my one-on-one meetings with team leaders. I can check in on projects and make sure that staff members have no roadblocks to meeting our goals.
Dedicating my time to these tasks keeps us one step ahead of problems, rather than three steps behind.
Ceding power can be difficult, especially when you’re used to the immediate satisfaction that comes with putting out fires. But the best leaders create stable, predictable, and systemized environments instead of simply hovering, waiting for the next fire to be killed.
Feeling comfortable as you step away from day-to-day operations is a sign that you’ve built a resilient company where employees are confident about solving problems on their own. Best of all, you can devote your own time to the things that matter most.