How to Let Go So Your Company Can Grow
Updated: Jan 3
It’s your business. You have spent a good part of your life turning your vision into a reality, and finally success is peeking just around the corner. But it is becoming more difficult to manage it all. Now what?
Every entrepreneur must go through a painful but vital evolution, if scaling the business from startup to global success is the goal. You must transition from the "I-need-to-be-involved-in-everything" mindset to: "I need to let go so my company can grow."
Keeping a white-knuckled grip on every decision, every sales pitch, and every marketing message may be the very thing that has gotten you to where you are now. But it might also keep you there. Whether you're running a startup or a mid-size company with $500 million in annual revenue, there comes a point when the more you hold on, the more you hold your company back.
How do you know if you've hit that point with your business? Here's a hint: you have. Every CEO can do a better job of hiring the right people, enabling and empowering them, and giving them room to fail.
Letting go is not easy. It means that other people may make decisions you would never make. But on the bright side, people may make brilliant decisions you would never make.
Hire Smart: Have the confidence and the courage to hire talented people, pay them what they're worth, and let them work. Recruit individuals who complement you (not those who compliment you). You want diversity and balance, not a team of "Mini Me's" who are just junior versions of you.
Avoid the trap of self-comparison. Worried that you'll become personally irrelevant if you hire too many star players? Worry instead that your company will become irrelevant if you surround yourself only with people who are less talented than you are.
The smartest CEOs hire the smartest, most competent people they can afford. But one word of caution: Always hire the person you need right now, not the person you think you'll need in five years, no matter what your growth plans are. It doesn't matter how impressive her degree is, or if he spent a decade at the biggest player in your industry. If your company is not ready for those skills, it will be a bad hire.
Enable and Empower: The worst thing you can do is to hire the right people and then stand in the way of their success, either by over-managing or under-managing them.If you recruit a strong, competent leader as your vice president of operations and then continue to maintain control of every daily decision, at best you're failing to leverage the talent you're paying for. At worst, you're incentivizing her to find a new job--and fast.
Enable your new hires by removing roadblocks, providing the information and tools they need to be successful, and then getting out of the way. Don't enable them in the negative sense of the word, where you become the crutch they lean on, and you're bearing half the weight of every step they take. It's equally destructive to empower without enabling. In other words, you make the hire and, perhaps subconsciously, wait for him to prove his worth before you've provided the right amount of direction.
As you're onboarding a new hire, take the time to provide all the background, context and hard-fought knowledge you have. Yes, you may know more than anyone else about this segment of your organization, but this is information that can be imparted to someone else. Help your new hire gain the same level of clarity and insight that you've achieved, and make it clear that you expect him to surpass you.
Be clear with yourself about what success looks like for each person you directly hire. What are your expectations for that person in that role? How will you be measuring performance? Communicate this up front. If your direct reports have to ask you for success benchmarks, you're already a step behind.
Welcome Failure: Brace yourself -- when you empower others, they will fail sometimes. They definitely won't do things as well as you did at first. Neither did you. Michael Jordan once said, "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." Often these words are easier to apply to yourself than to the people on your team. Your company's future, however, absolutely depends on your ability to indoctrinate this belief in every member of your organization.
This starts with modeling a willingness to fail. Make it clear to the members of your team that it's okay to own up to mistakes by actually admitting when you've made a mistake. As contrary as this might seem to the face-saving that afflicts so many in business, it's surprisingly effective. It fosters an environment where mistakes at all levels of the organization can be acknowledged and addressed before they become catastrophes.
Ben Horowitz, author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, once said in an interview, "Pretending that things are perfect isn't actually very effective... People don't believe you and...you can't get people to solve problems that you won't admit you have."
When others fail, avoid the impulse to snatch the task back. Instead, ask yourself if there's anything you did to contribute to the problem, and make amends. Did you hire the right person for this phase of your business? Hopefully, yes. Did you provide all the right tools and information? If not, invest more time in training. Did you make the expectations clear? Now is the perfect time to clarify. Did you get in the way? Stop it. Did you do all the right things and someone failed anyway? That's the risk you take--and another lesson learned.
What Letting Go Looks Like: Letting go is not holding on. It sounds obvious, yet entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at believing it. Imagine yourself sharing your expertise, your advice or your opinion, and then letting someone else make the decision. Imagine yourself accepting that decision, even if you would have made a different one. That's what letting go looks like.
You will lose some control (just accept that now), but you will gain cooperation, camaraderie, and confidence in the people you work beside every day. If you hired smart individuals whom you both enabled and empowered, they are capable of growing your business beyond anything you could've built alone. So let them.