Michael Kitces has declared the “unhappiest successful advisors” to be those that fall into a category he has termed “accidental business owners.” As he describes on his blog, “The source of their stress is that they may have built successful and profitable businesses—and now find themselves responsible for managing it—despite the fact that they never actually intended to build a firm t they would have to spend so much time managing in the first place!” I’ve spoken to many of these advisors/accidental business owners myself. They are at their wits end when they contact me, saying, “Something is wrong here—I’m working harder than ever, and the business is not moving forward. What should I do?”
My answer is always that these advisors need to delegate more tasks to allow them to focus on what they love: client service and business development. This is always easier said than done, however, as advisors often have an unlimited number of excuses as to why they can’t seem to get tasks and responsibilities off their overwhelmed shoulders. In the book, “How to Be a Great Boss,” Gino Wickman and Rene Boer provide a list of the most common reasons bosses give for not delegating, all of which I’ve heard directly from advisors’ mouths:
- I have no one to delegate to
- It takes too much time for me to train someone
- I find that it’s faster and easier to do it myself
- I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself
- No one can do it as well as I can
- It’s too complicated to explain it to them
- I spend too much time fixing their mistakes
While some of these excuses may be legitimate, the fact is that without a purposeful plan to offload administrative tasks from the firm’s primary rainmaker, the business can’t grow. As Wickman and Boer write, “By delegating and elevating (your staff), you will build extensions of yourself that will enable you and your organization to continue to grow and develop. By not delegating activities to others, you will remain stuck.” It really is that simple—if you are determined to grow your business, it is imperative that you delegate tasks to those around you. There is no other way forward for your personal satisfaction and the health of your business.
Wickman and Boer provide a framework for determining exactly which tasks should be delegated. They advise you track all business-related activities you perform during a day, week and month, and then place each activity into one of four quadrants:
Quadrant 1 – “Love/Great” activities are those that you’ve mastered, that you love doing, that give you energy and a sense of fulfillment.
Quadrant 2 – “Like/Good” activities are those that you can do with minimal effort and that give you enjoyment and satisfaction.
Quadrant 3 – “Don’t Like/Good” activities are those that you are good at doing—you have learned to do them well through repetition and necessity—but that don’t give you real satisfaction or a sense of fulfillment.
Quadrant 4 – “Don’t Like/Not Good” activities are most likely outside your area of expertise and leave you feeling inadequate and frustrated.
While you can never delegate everything on your plate, according to Wickman and Boer, you should look to hand off duties and tasks that fall in Quadrants 3 and 4. As they state in their book, “Life is too short to be doing things that you don’t get, want or have the capacity to do. To leverage your emotional, intellectual, physical and time capacity to do the job, you must develop a plan to delegate items in the bottom two quadrants.” On the other hand, the activities in Quadrants 1 and 2 should be the work you enjoy and are great at doing, which should lead to greater job satisfaction and fulfillment.
When you delegate tasks that don’t inspire you, “you are doing your team a favor for several reasons. First, you are freeing up more of your time to spend with them, ensuring they feel more valued. You are giving them more responsibility and more autonomy. You’ll stop being a bottleneck to those that report to you. Best of all, your people may be more competent than you are at doing the things that you’ve delegated to them.” Wickman and Boer conclude, “You therefore make yourself more valuable to the organization, not to mention being happier and more energetic.”
As Michael Kitces describes it, overwhelmed advisors/RIA owners have two choices: embrace your role as a new business owner—“learn to run, manage, and lead a business” (which includes hiring employees to whom you can delegate to); or “downsize the number of clients you serve … instead of scaling up, you’re scaling back.” While your firm’s profitability may soar as you scale back, Kitces is quick to point out, “Many advisors are so wired toward growth, it may feel like a failure to have to scale back.”
Faced with this decision, it’s important to know what you ultimately want. If growth is your goal, you must learn to embrace the power of delegation, or resign yourself to being the firm’s bottleneck. You must overcome the excuses for not handing tasks to those around you and use the “Delegate and Elevate Quadrants” to help you determine exactly what activities you should remove from your To Do list. The first step is always the hardest, but the delegation “muscle” will grow stronger the more you exercise it, and the positive effects will be felt throughout your organization.
Matt Sonnen is founder and CEO of PFI Advisors, as well as the creator of the digital consulting platform, The COO Society, which educates RIA owners and operations professionals how to build more impactful and profitable enterprises. He is also the host of the popular COO Roundtable podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @mattsonnen_pfi