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The art of leverage: delegating people effectively

The premise behind leverage in business is a simple one: better utilise your resources, to do more with less. It’s the successful execution of leverage, however, that can be a little more complicated.
In business, leverage used correctly is the effective utilisation of resources and assets available to you. And frankly, the art of leverage is what differentiates the good from the great. The question must then be: How do you effectively leverage your resources for a more profitable, productive business? You can start with delegation.

For all of the programming he did in the 80s, you can bet Bill Gates isn’t patching the latest security vulnerability found in Office 365; Tim Cook certainly isn’t soldering iPhones.

People are your business’s greatest resource. For those of you with reservations, you need to understand that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all yourself. And even if you think you can, it is also just about the least effective way to leverage your time.

Successful delegation allows an entire team to work more effectively, a considerable boost to your business’s overall productivity, if each individual effectively has the same man-hours as you do. Why not transform what used to take you hours to complete into a few minutes of strategic leadership, freeing up your time to contribute elsewhere?

It’s important to note that ‘leverage’ necessitates change, perhaps one of the largest impediments to business. Change is understandably difficult; resistance to change is natural.

Masterful artists of leverage, however, do not shy away from discomfort, realising the enormous potential it has for business. Instead, be prepared for and facilitate your team’s resistance.

If you’re struggling to motivate them, consider selling them the same promise that sold you on the change. The more you can explain the “why” behind the project, the more motivated and engaged they’ll be. Be clear about what needs to happen and what a job well done looks like.

Don’t be afraid to reward those who embrace change and work well within their new role. Leverage means ever more with ever less, and even handsome rewards – what are effectively small costs can translate into large boosts in team morale, productivity and arrest resistance to change.

What’s also important to understand when mastering leverage is where to target it first. The key is to focus on the biggest point of pain in your business, granting you the biggest value on return first. Yes, it will require a little babysitting at first, but that’s a small price to pay for a potentially huge return on investment.

Should things go wrong, and sometimes they do, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The people you’re delegating are human too; they can and probably will make mistakes. That’s no reason to take over their job – a potentially taxing mistake that will overburden you, alienate your staff and take your focus away from more important work.

Instead, go over the routines, schedules and processes put in place, with a fine-tooth comb if need be, and figure out what’s gone wrong, and why. Always ask what those systems intended to achieve. Then, give your staff the tools to assess themselves and their colleagues, and ensure the team leaders and managers are able to effectively gauge performance, address concerns, guide and ultimately, course correct their team.

You will, on occasion, have to roll up your sleeves and assist others. Be selective. For the most part, you want to be doing work only you can do. Weighing yourself down with other work may inhibit your judgement on decisions in the higher echelons of the business. You don’t need to be a jerk about it, but poor business decisions and leadership will be amplified throughout the business.

At the end of the day, masterful use of leverage does more than accelerate your business, it frees you up to do things you want to do, to enjoy the fruits of your labour. Design your business with that end in mind. That means that if things aren’t getting easier, cheaper, faster or better, then you’re not doing it correctly. Most importantly, realise that leverage is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. Once implemented, given time, look at the business as a whole and consider new ways to institute leverage.

Pieter Scholtz is the Co-Master Licensee in Southern Africa for ActionCOACH.


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