Pursuing business growth? It pays to know your limits and relinquish control

When a company reaches a certain stage, XLN Business Services founder Christian Nellemann believes it is critical to take a step back and allow the talent assembled to flourish.

For all growing companies, there comes a point when the entrepreneurs in charge must take a step back and hand over the reins – or at least share the slack with their teams.

The simple truth is that no ‘one’ person can do everything well. Some of the most useful business insight is gained by looking inwardly at your organisation to see where the strengths and weaknesses lie, and where talents can be channelled.

Of course, the prospect of relinquishing control is probably a little difficult to you as a founder, but I believe it is an essential step in the ongoing development of your business that would otherwise be stifled by an overbearing owner. It’s necessary because it gives your staff the freedom they need, and reassures them that you trust in their ability to further the growth you have set in motion.

It’s also a shock to the system for you personally: your life, day in, day out, has been occupied in the running of your business. Loosening that grip might seem tough at first, but in the long run it’s the only way your business can continue to grow – not to mention the only way you can maintain a healthy personal life.

You may own your business, but it belongs in part to everyone whose work contributes to its success, and you should be encouraging these proprietary feelings. When your team feel truly invested in the enterprise, they will give that little bit extra to secure success. It can be tempting to be an over-zealous mentor to your best people, but micromanage them and you’ll risk suffocating the very people you should be trusting to take the initiative.

Having birthed several businesses myself, it’s not an exaggeration to say that founders often feel like worried parents. But over the years parts of your business must become independent of your care, and you must learn to take advantage of other people’s skills and expertise. They say it’s better to act first and apologise second than to always wait for permission; as an entrepreneur, you would be crazy not to surround yourself with people who take decisive action on behalf of you. That’s what real management is about.

It’s also true, a little paradoxically, that the ability to recognise your own limitations is a mark of a great business person. No one can do everything, and admitting your weaknesses is nothing to be ashamed of. It gives you the opportunity to discover the talents in others, and to cultivate them. The best type of delegation is not the kind that gives everybody the jobs they love best; it’s the kind that gives a business the best chance of growth by assigning tasks to those who are best equipped to perform them.

I know from experience that the best people you meet along the way while you’re building businesses are the ones who will grow themselves, no matter the obstacles that get in their way. I’ve always tried to encourage my colleagues’ growth, but there have been examples that looking back on I realise that I myself might have been an obstacle by not letting go of things they could be trusted to perform.

So how do you resist the temptation to be a control freak? You can put some distance (literally) between you and the tasks you’re trying to loosen your grip on: why not work from home regularly, or separate your office from the rest of your team so that you’re not distracted by other teams’ work? You should also take that holiday you’ve been promising yourself – it’ll give you a bit of perspective and help you see the business woods for the trees.

I find it effective to use an organisational chart to identify company structures and see how work is shared among them. This will let you know if you’re spreading yourself across too much of the business. Use the chart to select the duties you perform that bring the most benefit to the business and which you can really thrive at, and dedicate yourself to these.

For me, the best thing I can do is to create systems and drive top-down change; the ground level, detailed work isn’t for me. By focussing on these, I’ve grown my own abilities, and encouraged others to improve theirs in other areas. It’s by recognising what I’m good at – and not so good at – that has helped me build the best teams. Ultimately the goal has been the same: the shared benefit of business growth.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.