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  • Writer's pictureMatt Stephenson

Not Every Vein is an Artery

When businesses are starting out, or are still quite small, leaders might find it necessary to know everything about everything that is going on across all areas. When there are not a lot of people, and not a lot of different initiatives, this is relatively straightforward to do.

Over time, as the business grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for those leaders to maintain the same level of detailed understanding about what is happening across their business, because there are increasingly too many people and too many initiatives.

That's when a strong multi-disciplinary management team, and a good organisation structure becomes essential, because you can't maintain detailed knowledge about every thing that is going on. Even if you could, why would you, if you're investing in a management team to handle some of that for you?

[As you grow] you can't maintain detailed knowledge about every thing that is going on

Once that structure is in place, the trick for those very hands-on leaders is to be able to step out of some of the detail with confidence, whilst keeping their finger on the pulse of what is going on (because having a good management team is definitely not a mandate to step away completely).

So, in order to successfully keep your finger on the pulse, how do you identify which things to take an interest in and which things to trust the team to crack on and execute with minimal input from you. The trick is to recognise that not every vein is an artery.

Having a good management team is not a mandate to step away completely

Any medical professionals or first-aiders reading this, please don't scrutinise my analogy too closely, because I know veins are really important as well, but you get my drift...!

The arteries are those things you need to identify and stay close to. That in itself can be tricky because everything you're doing should be rooted in a decent business case, but some of the characteristics I look for to determine whether I need to stay close or can leave the team to execute are:

  • Is it particularly strategically important - is the success of this initiative underpinning or enabling a broader strategy. If it fails, are we derailed strategically?

  • Is it particularly commercially valuable - do the business plan numbers depend on the successful delivery of this?

  • Is it particularly complex, and would the team benefit from my closer involvement as a consequence?

  • Is it particularly risky - if it goes wrong, will it cause a major headache for the business either reputationally or by some other measure?

By identifying these artery initiatives, as a leader you can have greater positive impact for the benefit of your teams and your business, whilst also leaving room for your team members who you are investing in and growing to operate some initiatives with more autonomy.

They'll feel less scrutinised and more trusted, and they will develop the skills to allow your business to take more on in the future. It is much more sustainable than trying to maintain a view of everything yourself. It's not easy to step away from some things, but essential nonetheless.

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