Sometimes Your Best Move is to Let Someone Else Take Over

There’s a certain appeal to believing you can do it all. As a manager working for a company undergoing steady growth, it’s easy to get caught up in the self-importance trap–that is, the idea that “I’m important to this company because I do {insert whatever you do}.”

This happens naturally enough in a company that’s experiencing growth. When a company is born, all responsibilities reside with a very limited number of people. Over time, as the company grows, activity levels increase and responsibilities must be handed off. This can feel threatening to a manager. After all, every time you hand over a critical responsibility to someone else, you’ve made yourself that much more replaceable, and being replaceable can be scary.

However, handing over responsibilities is absolutely critical and the most effective managers will aim to build up a team where they really are no longer needed for their teams to carry on doing the work. The most effective managers will grow out of just being managers and grow into leaders who cast a vision, coach their teams, and remove obstacles from their team’s path.

That doesn’t mean that handing over responsibilities is easy, but it is sometimes necessary.

My Personal Strategy for Handing Over Responsibilities

Recently, I appeared on the Second in Command podcast where I talked a bit about this process. Here’s just a short section of the conversation I had with podcast host Cameron Herold:

There are a few factors I’ve found to be essential when it comes to handing over responsibility, and that I feel have allowed me to hand over responsibilities effectively:

  1. I didn’t act alone. Any moves I made to hand over responsibilities were discussed and coordinated with my manager (the CEO in this case).
  2. I moved slowly and deliberately. I started talking about the need to hire a CFO a good 9-12 months before we actually hired one. Similarly, I started talking about the need to hire a Head of HR 6-9 months before we started looking for one. I think this slow movement was an important part of ensuring I was comfortable with the change, was certain it was genuinely warranted, and had fully considered the implications.
  3. I handed over to individuals who would do a better job than I was doing. I’ve done this repeatedly. It is always my goal when I hire someone that they have the capability of doing the job better than I’m doing it, if not immediately then in relatively short order. Of course, it always nice to hire someone who can do the job better from day 1, but if that’s not possible, I still try to find someone who has a higher ceiling relative to the specific responsibilities I’m handing off.

Relinquishing responsibility for a mission-critical task is rarely easy and may well spur some professional soul-searching. However, stepping back and letting others pull ahead so you can refocus is a critical professional talent for managers of companies undergoing steady (or faster) growth.

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