AWG Ambassador
Wednesday, October 04, 2023
By Andi Gray

Dilemma: My employees look to me for direction and wait for me to make a decision—it can’t all sit on my shoulders anymore. We’re not going to advance this company forward if we don’t have a management team that can drive performance. I know I’m probably at fault, considering the way I manage and have trained my people. What do I do to turn this around?

Thoughts of the Day: A self-reliant management team is essential for a thriving, growing company. Think about each area of the business and who can step forward and step up. Identify and define the skills needed to get to the next level. Make contracts with employees about what they’re willing to do to become leaders. Set team goals and meet regularly to practice working as a group to accomplish the company’s mission.

Leadership The company can’t rest on one or two peoples’ shoulders and be successful in the long term. Responsibilities need to be divided up, and most of all, managers need to be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the owner. Small business owners have a tendency to keep themselves tethered to too many areas of the company, which is counterproductive to delegation. People need to train their backups to be ready to step in at a moment’s notice, should something happen to the individual in charge. Imagine the company in units of eight people, each group reporting to a manager, supervisor, or team leader.

Building teams to share the management load takes a lot of weight off owners’ shoulders. It also tends to result in happier employees who feel more personally invested in elevating the company. It also makes it easier to identify people who may no longer be a good fit—or who have outgrown their original roles.

Don’t confuse money with responsibility initiative. Don’t feel that you have to offer more money right off the bat to get people to step up. If funds are tight, offer people a chance to learn more, to grow their influence in the company, and make an agreement that they’ll share in the profits when plans come to fruition. If you feel that you need to offset growing responsibilities with an extra perk or two, there are plenty of non-monetary ways to compensate and encourage your team, like flexible hours or working from home when circumstances allow.

Review each managerial candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Go through a review discussion, asking each manager to honestly assess their area of responsibility, ability to play a leadership role, and skill at taking the company forward. Be sure you are properly assessing leadership: A leader is not necessarily the loudest or bossiest in the group, but the person or people who are most influential and motivational, especially under pressure. One who rules by intimidation or manipulation is not a leader but a dictator.

Ask each candidate to step up to the challenge while respecting their right to decline. But don’t stop there: If the person you selected doesn’t want to step up, find someone else. Look inside the company first, and build a training program to get your candidate up to speed. If necessary, search outside the company. Make a decision as to how you will realign jobs and adjust existing staff to stay within budget as you move people around.

For each employee you’ve selected to join the management team, make a contract. Spell out expectations for increasing job skill and leadership ability. Agree on each person’s responsibility for attending classes. Monitor individual progress monthly, with specific results that each person agrees to work toward producing. Make sure each person has signed a specific growth plan that has specific dates of when they will accomplish each part of the plan. Review each person’s plan at least quarterly.

Work with your management team to brainstorm companywide goals. Lay out non-negotiable parameters, such as 10-15 percent growth in revenue, increase in both gross and net profit, and increased reserve funds to match the company’s increased spending obligations. Ask the group to turn these parameters into goals for the company overall as well as for their specific departments. Meet weekly to give each department an opportunity to talk about what they’ve accomplished, what’s next, and to get feedback and help from the group.

It will take practice for you, as the owner, to step back and give your people room to lead and see how the group does without you. Resist the temptation to step in to make decisions and, instead, use the time you once spent mandating responsibilities and direction to work on your listening and coaching skills.   [CD0119]
Andi Gray is the founder of the Business Consulting Firm Strategy Leaders. She can be reached at