Too Many Chiefs: A Good Problem to Have

Apr 6, 2017, Written by Jim Miley


It’s common for leaders to feel we are the only thing keeping the wheels on in our business.  Running from fire to fire and saving the day at every turn.

Whether it’s controlling expenses, maintaining customer relationships, solving a quality problem or coming up with new ideas to improve, business owners/leaders have a tall order to fill.

Having to drive every facet of a business can wear you down and force you into mistakes or bad decisions.  The simple numbers of not enough time in the day to properly assess and act on important issues will eventually surround you and likely result in undesirable outcomes.

I work almost exclusively with small businesses and am very familiar with the challenges that small teams encounter.  An observation that prompted this post is many small business owners perceive they need to “be the leader.”  Being the leader tends to mean: make all the decisions, direct all the actions, have their hands firmly fixed on the wheel lest the ship suddenly jerk hard to port and off course.

Owning one small business, running another and coaching many, I get the risks associated with a bad decision in the small biz world.

As owners or leaders, we tend to focus on the costs associated with that one risky decision by an employee.  If I take my eye off the ball for one second, someone’s going to fumble deep in enemy territory when I’m not looking.  We forget the simple numbers game where we are inevitably going to make mistakes specifically because we are trying to control too many of the daily decisions required to play the game effectively.

I’m not arguing for business leaders to shirk their leadership responsibilities for decision making or command and control.  I am proposing value in a modified perspective on the common negative connotation of “too many chiefs.”  Bare with me here through the following harsh point to get to the benefit.

I have observed and worked with many business leaders who fear letting subordinates lead.  Those leaders perceive the risk too high to delegate authority and tend to ignore the costs of their own performance.

Naturally the experienced leader is often most qualified to direct whatever business activities are in question when isolated.  But your business is not a series of isolated activities, but rather, a twisting batch of parallel and rapid-fire decisions with imperfect data.  It is difficult at best for us to keep up with all the moving pieces and be clear-minded in our decisions when we are often outnumbered and surrounded by distracting noise.

Delegation: Build the Skills of your Team

A good solution is to build the leadership and decision-making skills of your team.

Evaluate the risks of controlled delegation against the benefit of having greatly-improved leadership skills with which to spread the load across your staff.  You can change the numbers on the playing field by investing in your employee’s decision-making skills, which makes you a stronger leader.

This point might seem like common sense to some readers, but I see the need for application on a regular basis.  I get that it’s hard to trust key decisions to employees where real costs are at stake; but, the benefits to you and your business are worth it.

Consider how you invest in the decision-making skills and authority of your team with the following list as just some of the benefits.

  • People closest to situations are often best equipped to make decisions.
  • Stress and lack of time to review often lead to poor or uninformed decisions.
  • Delegating authority builds employee engagement and job satisfaction
  • Having competent decision makers on your team allows you to focus on more strategic and higher level decisions with the greatest value.

I encourage all our clients to invest in the decision making and leadership competence within their teams no matter how small.

I’ll present some tips in the coming weeks on how you can manage delegation to effectively develop your employees while controlling risk so the results are strongly in your favor.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” – Proverbs 15:22

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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