In entrepreneurship, delegation is often seen as perhaps something akin to a four-letter-word. I have met countless founders over the years who have been nothing short of insistent that they should know every last detail about every part of the business. We’ve all met the sort before, the archetypal ‘micro manager.’ The problem remains however, that as businesses scale… the want to know everything may not leave you, the ability surely will. A key part of every entrepreneur’s toolkit therefore has to be the ability to delegate.

[Not] The Passing of the Buck

Delegation is- too often- seen as the exercise of passing ‘excess workload’ (code for ‘the things I find boring and/or do not want to do’) to others in the organisation. This isn’t delegation, It’s laziness.

Delegation is a leadership trait

If we really, truly want to get a handle on delegation, we need to see it at it’s best. Whether we look at battlefields, orchestra, sports-teams or large corporations- every day we are surrounded by examples of leaders who have trust and credibility combined with solid belief in their team.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to speak to the CEOs of many of the world’s most successful companies, and one of the most common-threads in discussions has been the fact that a company needs a fantastic product or service at the core, but will never be successful without a strong management team and excellent people who are empowered to take ownership of what they’re doing.

This view is important. Delegation is about giving the right people in your organisation the ability to excel at what they do, and in turn- to help you (as a company leader) to achieve the objectives of your enterprise.

Take it from me; in practice, this is hard. When you’ve founded a business, the last thing you want to do is let-go. It’s part of the psychology of most founders- but let-go you must, and if you handle it right, it can work extremely well, Over the years, I’ve found a few common threads in successful delegation

  1. The Right People
    You need to hire people who are smart, ideally smarter than you. There’s a reason Google, Apple and their peers are filled with PhD’s. The smarter your team (whether academically, or in experience) the more they will deliver.
  2. The Right Approach
    You have to be able to set qualitative and quantitative targets for your team (think of them as soft-objectives, and hard-targets), communicate these extremely clearly, and reward delivery, and empower development if mistakes happen. You have to stay engaged with the process as a leader, mentor and supporter whilst not getting into the minutiae.
  3. The Right Culture
    The most successful organisations I’ve met over the years have a very-strong senses of culture (even from start-up stage).   This isn’t the soft process of drafting a mission statement for your website, but genuinely understanding the type of personality you want your company to have and why, and ensuring that your team are part of that journey.

I have the privilege to be the Executive Patron of a major Cancer centre in Manchester where- in my own opinion- the art of delegation is seen at its finest. As a charity, they are not able to pay the salaries of private sector big pharma for example, but they are able to attract phenomenal talent, and give them the breathing room to do what they do best (science!) under the mentorship and leadership of their board.   This is an organisation that delegates the profoundly important task of fighting disease; and does so because of the culture, the glue that binds the team together. It seems to me that the first word in their strapline is perhaps the secret of their success: Together we will beat cancer

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.