Very few entrepreneurs start their businesses using a “hands-off” approach. In most cases, business owners are the first to roll up their sleeves and do the work. But as your business grows, being too much of a hands-on leader can start to hold you back. Here’s how to find the balance that is right for you, your employees, and your business goals.
The Benefits of Hands-On Leadership
Working side-by-side with your employees feels good. It is often a place where many business owners are comfortable, where they feel like they are making a difference and can check off a lot of boxes to get things done. Being a hands-on leader early in your company’s lifetime is necessary and effective. As our company grows, there are benefits to continuing to take a hands-on role in the company’s operations by:
- Understanding workflow
- Developing rapport with employees
- Observing shifts in the market or industry
- Responding to crises and conflicts that arise
Hands-on leaders tend to be more committed to their teams, and more aware of the day-to-day decisions and challenges employees face. In the best situations, taking a hands-on approach can also allow you to coach and mentor up-and-coming employees, encouraging them to develop their skills into new roles as your company grows.
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Micromanaging: Too Much of a Good Thing
Hands-on leaders thrive on working alongside their teams and having a say in every decision made in their companies. But there is a fine line between being hands-on and micromanaging. When employees feel a loss of trust or autonomy, hands-on leadership can sometimes create as many problems as it solves. If your employees believe you don’t trust them to handle matters without you, it can cause resentment and interfere with teams’ ability to brainstorm and problem solve.
Hands-on leadership can also make it difficult to balance performance reviews and skills development. If your employees feel like you are overseeing everything they do, they may be hesitant to express problems to you. They may also become demotivated and less effective as a result of constant, unnecessary supervision.
When to Take a Hands-Off Approach
When company growth begins to take off, keeping both hands on the wheel can sometimes lead to losing track of your company’s larger vision. Far too many business owners find their time swallowed by day-to-day tasks, unable to take a step back and make objective assessments about the company’s direction, and its prospects. When your To-Do list becomes overwhelming, it may be time to relinquish some control, and allow your employees to pick up some of the slack.
Your company may be ready for a hands-off leader if:
- Team members are well-suited to their positions
- The company vision is clear and well-articulated
- Processes and procedures are in place and running smoothly
- Profits are beginning to plateau
Assuming you have built a good team, with strong communication practices, taking a hands-off approach can give employees the freedom to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. This means you will face more risk than in using a hands-on approach. However, it also opens the door to new perspectives and unconventional strategies. When done well, hands-off leadership can allow your team to explore options you would never have considered for your business. Chances are, some of them will pan out. For those that don’t, you’ll still be there to step in and correct the course, so your company can thrive.
How to Find the Balance for Hands-On vs Hands-Off Leadership
No leader should 100% hands-on or hands-off. The right balance of personal engagement and employee empowerment depends on the nature of your business, the company’s dynamic, and the quality of your team. It may take some trial and error, and objective feedback, to find the right balance.
If you have been too much of a hands-on leader up to this point, you may find it difficult to get feedback from your employees when you start to let go of the controls. If your employees have previously felt micromanaged or overly controlled, it will take time to develop a new relationship of trust and open communication.
In those cases, it can be beneficial to hire an organizational consultant to give your employees a neutral party to whom they can provide feedback. This consultant can then work with you, the business owner, to dial in on where a hands-off strategy will work best, and where your team needs a bit more of a hands-on leader. By working together to develop a leadership strategy tailored to your company, you can reap the benefits of both hands-on and hands-off leadership while giving your employees a comfortable and productive working environment.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping business owners and managers develop leadership strategies to drive their businesses forward through one-on-one executive coaching. Contact us to meet with David and advance your professional development today.