The Secret Step to Success: The Art of Delegation

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It’s the bane of every author. No, it’s not writer’s block, writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel syndrome. Sure, all these things exist, but they pale in comparison to this single great curse: perfection.

They say “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and, when it comes to writing, this is all too often true. Diligent writers weigh every sentence, every word, every syllable. Good writing is not merely a collection of coherent thoughts, but a flowing melody of music.

Think of your favorite books. Whether they be fiction or non-fiction, they all possessed the same trait. They all kept you turning the pages. You followed the story with rapt attention, eager to discover what happened next.

I repeat, this applies to non-fiction as well as fiction. Good non-fiction should contain a dramatic narrative that compels you to explore the subject further. It’s not only what happens next that drives you, but why it happens. You want to know.

Compare this to a dry textbook. A textbook might be filled with all the facts demanded by the teacher’s syllabus, but is it really something you want to read? No. Though you may want to refer to it if you need a quick answer, you’ll never place it on your bookshelf under the “casual reading” category.

Authors understand this. Unless they’re drafting a reference book, they seek to find the narrative that immerses the reader into the world of words they are about to create.

So, they pursue perfection. Often beyond the point of no return. Perfection, therefore, stands as the most difficult obstacle every author must overcome.

I was reminded of this the other day. I was a guest in a finance class at Western Kentucky University’s Gordon Ford College of Business. At one point, a student asked, “What was the single most important piece of advice you can give someone who desires to become an entrepreneur?”

Veterans of this Commentary will recall “Ready. Fire! Aim.” (Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, May 21, 2020). This is the entrepreneur’s answer to paralysis by analysis, a.k.a, the obsessive search for perfection. This is what I told the students:

I had this book idea that I used to tell a client about every year at our annual meeting. Finally, after nearly a decade of this, he blurted out, “Chris, stop talking about it and start writing it.”

I had been so focused on finding the perfect structure to the book, the I hadn’t even written the first paragraph!

I listened to him and since then, I’ve got more than half a dozen books to my name.

But, at the same time, I haven’t listened to him. For every book that has been published, I have two books “in progress.” Some of these are more than a decade old, including the one involved in our conversation.

Even if entrepreneurs learn to throw caution to the wind and simply set sail with the minimum of rigging, that doesn’t mean there aren’t rough seas ahead. Here’s why.

The classic entrepreneur starts life as an inventor. The invention is more often an idea or system rather than a physical product. Inventors tend to be solitary types. They work alone. Not only is it less expensive than hiring staff, but it’s more efficient (but only if you have a disciplined approach).

This is all well and good when getting started. To take a new business to the next level, however, requires overcoming the capacity constraints inherent within a single person. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. It’s a mistake many entrepreneurs make in two ways: first, failing to recognize it; and, second, failing to execute it properly.

This unheralded rule may be called “the secret step to success.” Without it, success is nearly impossible. Do it right and at least you have a decent shot at attaining success.

Here it is:

“Delegate.”

Don’t do everything yourself. You can’t. There are only so many hours in the day when you can work productively.

Why do so many entrepreneurs fail even if they know this rule? Because delegation alone represents only half the rule.

Here’s the full rule:

“Delegate correctly.”

This is something I learned from Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth. Actually, I learned it from him twice. The first time was in the 1980s when I saw him speak at a conference in Boston. I remembered what he said, but I promptly ignored it when I started my business.

I made the same mistake many entrepreneurs make. I tried to overcome my capacity constraints by bringing on others to take on the high-end tasks, leaving the mundane portions of the business for me. This was an expensive mistake. Lots of new business owners make this costly error.

Gerber suggests you should begin by delegating the mundane tasks. You, the entrepreneur, are the face of the business. You are the only one who can best articulate and practice what is needed for the high-end tasks.

Somebody else can do the filing. Somebody else can do the books. But you’re the one who came up with the secret recipe, so you’re the only one who should be responsible for making the sauce. In economics, this is called “comparative advantage” and it means, basically, to stick to the things you’re relatively better at.

Delegation is not a science, it’s an art. And if you want to achieve everything you have the talent to achieve, you’ll need to learn this art, practice this art, and live this art.

And this doesn’t apply just to the business world. It applies to clubs, organizations, and even everyday household chores.

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