New (Female) CEOs — Afraid of Delegating Because of Privilege? What I’ve Learned So Far.
Is it okay to hand off to your executive assistant calling your mechanic and finding out what to do about your decapitated driver’s side mirror?
Is it okay to ask her to make a call to a coworking space to find out what kind of wifi speed they have so you can try working there on Wednesday?
Is it okay to get help fielding emails? Entering data? Washing your car?
In other words, Is it okay to hand off the little tasks that would take me almost no time to do, just so I can have more space?
I’ve heard of male CEOs having their assistants schedule the dog walker and sell things on eBay without even thinking twice about it. So why do I flinch?
In my process of developing into the CEO I want to be, I’ve found myself coming up against resistance to privilege, especially as a woman. I’m afraid to feel bourgeois and spoiled, as if my fingernails aren’t just passably clean, but are polished with high-priced manicures. This isn’t something I hear a lot about in business. Maybe it’s because people are further along than me, or maybe it’s because so many people writing about business are men. I’m not sure. But either way, it’s been a challenge that I’ve had to confront as I grow my team.
A little context:
I’m the daughter of two elementary school teachers and the granddaughter of a dairy farmer. I’m used to being a worker, and I value rolling up my sleeves and doing the work. I value doing all of the little things oneself in order to achieve the big things.
Also, I’m a woman who, like so many women is used to multitasking and taking care of all the little things for the people in their lives.
But what I’ve found as my branding and naming agency grows is that it’s dangerous not to hand off the little things. When something big comes up that only I can handle, me not being able to take care of the little things can become a very big problem.
I knew I had to re-frame my resistance to delegation if I was going to become a good leader in my business. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
To be a CEO I need space.
When it comes down to it, as CEO I am responsible for just a few things.
- Creative direction.
- Knowing how it all fits together.
These things require space.
To be able to guide the entity I’ve created, it is essential to carve out space for myself. If my value is in having the greater perspective, if that’s what the business is paying me for, I’d better take that responsibility seriously.
How do I do that?
By letting other people do their jobs. If I’m micro-managing and doing 20% of this person’s job and 50% of that person’s job, not only am I disempowering my team, but I’m definitely not doing my job at full capacity.
In this light, delegation isn’t about being better than someone else or handing off tasks are “beneath me.” It’s that I have a role and my role requires spaciousness. It’s not just that I can or even should hand things off — it’s that I must. And it’s a disservice to the company to do otherwise. If I look at my business as an organism, with no role being higher than another, just different, I can become more neutral and less triggered by the idea of privilege. I can see that every role is necessary in the growth and fulfillment of our company’s mission, which I believe in deeply.
Reconnecting to this truth reminds me that I am determined to be a badass spirit in a CEO human body — to birth this creation and this company that I know is possible into the world. Because I believe in it — its mission and its creative gifts.
Just as an artist would ruthlessly defend her space to facilitate, cultivate, and foster the quietest, deepest, most mystical parts of the creative process, so must I, in my professional life, hold space. I must create boundaries; I must hold to those boundaries; and I must, with eyes on the horizon and feet deeply rooted and heart radiating open and gut, simple, but sharp — I must declare
“This is my space. This is my space.”
And I must claim my solitude and my quietude and my truth. And from here, no rush, no pressure, no stress. From here is where I am most powerful. From here is where I will be of greatest service to this world.
Do you want to be of greatest service in your business and in this world? Here’s an exercise to help you get started with the delegation process and create the space to fulfill your true roles as CEO.
Step 1: Carve out some space for yourself. Take a weekend if you have to.
Step 2: Go somewhere you like. Your favorite cafe or sitting out in the sun, by the water or on top of a mountain, your rooftop. Somewhere you won’t be disturbed.
Step 3: Write down all the little tasks that you do on a regular basis. Write down things you might hand off normally, or are easy for you to hand off. For example: call this person, do some research on this thing, etc. These are the easy things to delegate, either at the beginning of the week, or adding to a list whenever one occurs to you. They don’t require much, if any training. Just clear directions.
Step 4: Move onto bigger responsibilities during your day and week. These are more likely things that are a process rather than an one-off task. They might require some training, some documentation — but they are things that could potentially be handed off to a team member. Schedule time in your calendar to create the materials needed to be able to train around these tasks. This is what will really begin to free you up over time. Then find the right people to take on these new responsibilities, on your current team or outside the organization.
Step 5: Take a deep breath, taking in the fact that though you are essential to your business, you aren’t necessary at every moment. It’s time to move on to what you are actually responsible for.
This will be different for every business. Depending on where you are, you might be doing client work directly as well as leading your team. Just remember that however big your allotted time is for being CEO and working on the business instead of in the business, it comes down to these three things:
- Creative direction.
- Knowing how it all fits together.
It’s going to take time to train, develop, and trust your employees. And it’s not just about trusting them. It’s about trusting yourself, too.
But it’s worth it.
It’s worth it to grow yourself in order to grow your business. They’re inseparable. And if you truly believe, like I do, that no job is more important than any other job (they’re just different), then privilege doesn’t need to stand in the way of you delegating. To not take over even ten percent of someone else’s job. Because you need to be there one hundred percent for your job.
This is what I’m living into. Owning my job as CEO (and even more, as ArtistCEO).
More on that another time. Or come keep up with me on the podcast (start from Episode 1).