- Are You Able to Delegate?
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June 6, 2024

Tracey, the CEO of a rapidly growing tech startup, greeted me on Zoom with a look of frustration. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong," she said as she started our weekly call. "I feel like I'm working harder than ever, but my team just isn't delivering the results I need."

As a coach to CEOs and founders, I've seen this scenario play out countless times. Leaders who are so focused on being accountable and responsible for every aspect of their business that they forget the importance of delegating ownership to their team.

Over the next hour, Tracey and I dug into the root of the problem. We talked about the difference between accountability, responsibility, and authority, and how understanding these concepts is crucial for any leader looking to build a high-performing team.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." This quote perfectly encapsulates the power of ownership in the workplace.

When we say someone is accountable, we mean they have the ability to track and report on their work. They can measure their progress, identify areas for improvement, and ultimately answer for their results. Accountability is about transparency and being able to demonstrate the impact of your efforts.

Responsibility, on the other hand, is about the actual execution of the work. When you're responsible for something, it means you're the one who needs to make it happen. You're the doer, the person on the ground turning plans into reality. Responsibility is about taking action and seeing things through to completion.

Authority is perhaps the most misunderstood of the three. Having authority means you have the power to make decisions and drive change. You're not just executing on someone else's vision; you're shaping the direction of your work and your team. Authority is about having the autonomy and influence to make things happen.

True ownership is the combination of all three of these elements. When you have ownership, you're not just accountable for your work or responsible for getting things done. You also have the authority to make decisions and shape the outcome. Ownership is about having skin in the game and being invested in the success of the entire organization.

As a leader, your job is to cultivate a culture of ownership on your team, or make clear which of the three sub-types you are delegating to your team. 

Think about it like this; if you're a Sales Director, you might have the authority to set the overall strategy and direction for your team. But you can't be responsible for every single sales call or accountable for every single metric. That's where your Sales Managers come in. By delegating responsibility and accountability to them, you empower them to take license of their work and drive results. Ultimately the performance of the team comes back to the Owner. 

The same goes for any other area of your business. As a leader, your job is to set the vision and provide the resources and support your team needs to succeed. But you also need to trust them to take ownership of their work and make decisions that align with the company's goals. If you can't delegate to your team due to a lack of trust or capabilities, and you've tried to remedy that, you ultimately need to cut them loose. 

As the renowned management consultant Peter Drucker once said, "Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.By delegating ownership to your team, you're not just setting them up for success; you're also fulfilling your responsibility as a leader to support and empower those around you.

Of course, delegating ownership isn't always easy. It requires an extension of trust and a willingness to let go of control. But the payoff can be enormous. When your team feels a sense of control over their work, they're more engaged, more motivated, and more likely to go above and beyond to achieve great things.

So if you're a leader looking to build a culture of ownership on your team, start by getting clear on the difference between accountability, responsibility, and authority. Look for opportunities to delegate each of these elements to your team members. Give them the tools and resources they need to succeed, and then step back and let them take the lead.

It may feel uncomfortable at first, but over time, you'll start to see the power of ownership in action. Your team will become more proactive, more creative, and more invested in the success of the company. And as a leader, you'll be able to focus on the big picture, knowing that you have a team of owners who are driving results and making things happen.

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.