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“Bottlenecks are always at the top! what can I give up…?”

This is one of my favourite sayings to my Compadre clients, particularly the founders and leaders. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the natural enemy of the leader is “doing”. I don’t mean that a leader should stop or stay still – that’s not the “doing” we’re talking about. I mean being “on the tools”, rather than being able to step back, see the bigger picture, and make decisions on where the business should go next. Which is where “delegate to elevate” comes in. Delegate the busy work, empower your team, and elevate your thinking and your business.

This wasn’t an idea I arrived at overnight (though it did come into focus while speaking with some of my Compadres). Rather, this is something I’ve been learning over decades and wish I had realised sooner.

In my life, I actually had three kids: Betty Rose, Thomas, and the Businesses I founded. And in those early days of their lives, we are obsessed with them mentally, physically, and emotionally. I wanted every choice to be well-informed and the best decision possible.

At the agencies, that meant I was across the details of every campaign, every financial decision, every letter on every contract. When you’re starting something and especially when it doesn’t exist before, you lead from the front, setting the pace with your core team, establishing the culture and constantly improving the offer to attract and nurture clients. You’re obsessed with everything, all the time; and you’re doing everything all the time.

Ultimately, it was disempowering and drove me crazy. And probably drove everyone else crazy from time to time. I was exhausting and exhausted. As a founder, I was overparenting my business baby, just as human parents do to their first child. Unbeknownst to me, I had what I call, ‘founders syndrome’ which happens when a strong-minded founder (me), who battled against odds to build an organisation (me), ends up becoming its biggest constraint to growth (me).

Recognizing Founders Syndrome

Here’s another example. Meet Andrew and Kristen Cornale, super dynamic duo founders of undigital, a digital agency who are Compadres. We speak weekly about personal and professional goals, their business growth and what’s in the way. After a few of these sessions I could quickly see how they too were suffering from Founders Syndrome.

Andrew Cornale and Kristen Cornale, founders of Undigital, implement the delegate to elevate mindset to grow their business
Andrew Cornale and Kristen Cornale, founders of Undigital.

Andrew is an accomplished technologist with a decade of experience building and managing digital products for some of Australia’s most well-known brands. He has run and managed multiple successful Australian businesses, opened international headquarters, and recruited a talented team of software engineers and designers. He’s currently an entrepreneur running a business with annual revenues in the multimillions, and building another business on the side with huge ambitions. But here he is, 10 years on replying to email inquiries, fielding late-night client calls.

Kristen has fallen in her own version of this loop, where over the last decade years she’s developed her superpower of deeply listening, curiously uncovering technology needs, and solving client problems rapidly. She is constantly caught by being the solver herself, instead of enabling others to be the solvers and developing their own version of this superpower.

Breaking Through Founders Syndrome

A founder’s job is always the vision and a relentless determination to succeed, but the limit is about letting go of this role, and let’s admit it, the control and power you have as the founders. Because if not, the business only really develops around you, it can’t grow beyond you constantly doing your founder thang.

The breakthrough to get to the next level for me and for them is really simple: Delegate to Elevate. I had to adopt a new mindset and skill set to allow the business to grow up. Like all parents, you have to eventually send your kids to school, and trust in other people, the school and teachers to help them grow and thrive beyond you. This translates to founders and leaders refreshing your approach and letting others take over the lead and have more power.

That moment when you’ve got to share the responsibilities – and yeah, it’s hard and awkward, you don’t know if people will do it as well as you have, there is an inevitable risk in entrusting something you have built to someone else, but without this risk you’re limiting the rewards for everyone.

Andrew recently said to me “one of the best things you ever said to me was the Andrew of today is carrying the Andrew from 10 years ago up the hill and the Andrew from today is getting tired of it… let’s decommission Andrew 2013 so Andrew 2023 can accelerate to climb the hill”.

Embracing a New Mindset

“Free your mind and your arse will follow…”

George Clinton, Funkadelic

If I had my time again, I’d be looking to delegate power wherever possible so I was free to focus on the longer-term strategic issues. I don’t mean just dumping things on someone else, I mean actively developing team members to make sensible decisions and systems exist to facilitate the operation of the business. And then actively developing my leadership skills so I was the kind of leader who empowers, aligns, supports, and drives accountability of the team.

The amazing thing is, when you delegate one of your responsibilities, to one of your teams, they have a sense of pride that you’ve trusted them. So you’ve delegated to them, and you’ve elevated their self-esteem at the same time…. and free yourself up to fly higher towards your goals, ambitions, and a rewarding quality of life. It’s a WIN, WIN, WIN, scenario.

Another way to view what needs to be “Delegated to Elevate”:

  • What’s stopping our elevation or growth (where am I stuck in my life)? 
  • What is sapping my energy? 
  • What am I procrastinating about?

Procrastination often plays a role in cycle of overwhelm. In one of my favourite books, “WHO NOT HOW” by Dan Sullivan, Dan says, “Procrastination is a sign that your goals are big, but you need a WHO to help you with the HOW,” and that, “Procrastination has wisdom, if you listen to it”. In other words, why am I procrastinating about this particular task, is it because I don’t enjoy it, is it because I don’t think I’m good at it, is it because I probably know someone who’s much better at it than me?

Delegate to Elevate is a way of life. It’s empowering for everyone around you.

Delegation is E L E V A T I O N!