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The crucial reason why CEOs and entrepreneurs need to learn to give up control

Delegation is crucial to the success of a company.

The crucial reason why CEOs and entrepreneurs need to learn to give up control
[Photo: Mazhar Zandsalimi/Unsplash]

Marriage and divorce. Moving. Having a baby or facing an empty nest. For an entrepreneur, personal transitions can change your life and your business. When my wife and I were expecting our second child, I decided to take a three-month paternity leave from JotForm, the company I launched in 2006. I wanted to soak up that special time and bond with my family. There was just one problem: Who would take over while I was away?

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So I decided that my employees could run the company. We already eschewed the typical corporate structure with our small, cross-functional product teams, and I had faith in our 75 staff members (who now total more than 150). There was plenty of time to train everyone.

The plan worked beautifully. During my leave, I only visited the office three times, to sign paperwork. I spent 30 minutes a day checking email, but I didn’t have either phone or in-person meetings. When I returned, the company was not only functioning—it was tangibly stronger. The team had a clear sense of our mission, their teamwork was off the charts, and people were doing tasks better and faster.

This experience taught me a crucial lesson. To build a strong and successful business, entrepreneurs need to relinquish control, even if it isn’t in their nature to do so. I’ll share how we set our team up for success, but first, I want to explore the benefits of delegation.

Why entrepreneurs should take a step back

A 2015 Gallup study of 143 U.S. executives found that companies run by CEOs who delegate authority grow faster, earn higher revenues, and create more jobs at a faster rate. As management consultant Jesse Sostrin writes in Harvard Business Review, leaders need to be “more essential and less involved. . . . But the two are not the same. Just as being busy and being productive are not necessarily equal.”

When you’re a leader, you need to spend time working on your business, not in it. If you’re deep in the weeds of daily operations, you can’t imagine the future, let alone drive your company toward it. That’s why you need to empower your team to take care of the day-to-day matters so you can have the time and space to think strategically.

Starting a business typically means juggling multiple roles. Even as the business grows, it’s easy to keep a death grip on specific tasks out of habit, or in an effort to maintain control. For example, I used to interview and hire all new employees. I worried that bringing the wrong person into our culture could have catastrophic results. But once I passed this responsibility on to our COO, the results were even better. He was fully equipped to find outstanding employees, and unlike me, he had time to do it well.

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Perhaps most importantly, I believe that work/life balance is a daily pursuit, not a philosophy that sounds nice on paper. Taking time off for my family set a clear example for our team. When they’re navigating a life transition, employees know that we walk our talk, and they feel comfortable following suit.

Whether you’re facing significant personal changes or you’re ready to delegate more effectively, here are four ways to make it work.

1. Start early

It’s tough to make significant changes overnight. Set aside time to map your current workflow and determine what can be passed on to others. For example, early in my wife’s pregnancy, I began a daily review of all my tasks. I noted what could be delegated or automated and developed plans to make it happen.

2. Look out for spillover work

Leaders often handle tasks that don’t fit anyone else’s job description. From running social media accounts to answering general inquiries, it’s incredible how much we can “forget” to let go once the business expands. Even though we had just hired a new director of product design, I was still conducting all the design reviews. Preparing for my leave highlighted a shift that needed to happen anyway.

3. Provide one-on-one training

Work closely with the people who will take over your responsibilities. Demonstrate how you approach each task and clarify your expectations. If you have complicated processes, outline the steps, or create checklists in a shared document. Then, watch how they perform in a trial run. Offer help and advice, and work through any snags together.

4. Clarify the mission

Studies repeatedly show that doing meaningful work is more important to employees than money or recognition. According to Katina Sawyer, associate professor of psychology at Villanova University, “Research suggests that regardless of generation, people want to be connected to something greater at work—a meaning or a purpose that is larger than just a paycheck.”

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Share your purpose and bring your team into the transition. Show them why their work is invaluable, both for the business and your customers. Not only can transparency boost motivation, but your team will also be better equipped to make smart decisions. Your mission and vision are ultimately a litmus test they can use to solve problems—whether you’re in the office or not.


Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.

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