delegationWe like to say, “Do what you do best, and delegate the rest!” That sort of flies in the face of, “If you want it done right, do it yourself!” Is there a middle ground that gives you the time you need to focus on moving the company forward using your best skill sets without being disappointed by the performance of those upon whom you rely?

One of the biggest reasons for failure we see as advisors to small and medium-sized businesses is owners trying to do everything themselves. This keeps them from scaling and also keeps the company from doing its best. When owners try to do everything themselves, they think they’re saving money. Or, they think they’re saving the job from an undesirable outcome. But actually, they’re stretching themselves too thin and reaching beyond their skill set.

Our job as advisors is to identify the skills they need to delegate to move the company forward. We face two major challenges. One is that the owners tend to think they can do everything themselves – to the point that they actually hurt their own businesses by exhausting their limited skill sets. Another is that the owners simply don’t know how to delegate.

Most owners have great concepts they thoroughly believe in. It’s why they took the big risk, quit their job, and bet everything on a successful outcome. It’s why they work 17 hours a day, six days a week, without a vacation. But are they good people managers? Not necessarily.

Yes, they’re the owner and they think they’re the boss. They’ve certainly done all the hiring up to the point where they have achieved a positive cash flow. But now that they’re expanding, they need to bring on a full staff. Now, who will do the hiring, the training, and the holding people accountable?

Most owners take it for granted that they know how to hire and direct people to get the job done. The idea that at some point in the growth of the organization, they need a professional to do this work may be the last thing that crosses their mind. But we think it should be the first.

As businesses develop through the four stages of startup, build up, build out, and enterprise, they require very different management skill sets. If an owner can take the business through the treacherous startup phase and get a few big clients in the build-up phase, why can’t the same owner take it to the buildout phase where the business scales and expands? This is the phase when most businesses fail. They typically fail because owners underestimate the amount of work that’s necessary to properly service all their new clients and accounts.

This is where delegation becomes absolutely critical. This is where the business requires a serious professional who understands the challenges ahead, knows what to look for in terms of new hires, has the ability to define and communicate the deliverables, and establishes a system of accountability to see that the job is done, and done right!

For most successful businesses, this person is not the owner. It’s difficult for owners who’ve taken “their baby” so far to give up a certain level of control in order to see it climb to the next level. It certainly was for us, and in retrospect, that view actually held our business back for several years. It wasn’t until we bit the bullet and put professionals in charge that we began to see the growth we always knew would eventually happen.

Don’t get us wrong, we made several false starts. But with every disappointing trial, we learned more about what we could delegate and what we should not. We still had the final say on hires but we allowed our managers to develop their own accountability plans – which we also approved.

The key to successful delegation for us was in the accountability plan. Basically, answer the following questions: What will get done? Who will do it? Are they qualified? When will it get done? How often are the status reports? What will they contain? And when is the deadline?

It’s still going to be a white-knuckle ride for the first few years of delegation. It terrifies most business owners to give up control! But you’re going to get better at it. And what if the person you’re relying on doesn’t perform? You can always use our favorite four-letter word, “NEXT!”


Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

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