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Posted: January 12, 2010

Do what you can—delegate the rest

...and other rules for success in life and business

Laurence B. Valant

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant’s book, Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance.

40 - Spend the majority of your time doing what only you can do. Delegate the rest.

Since most managers have difficulty delegating, implementing this rule may be challenging. However, the payback is enormous:

 First my staff gets to complete work that I can do but which they must learn

 Next, I free myself to work on those things only I can do

Finally, I can gradually add more complexity to what I delegate to my staff. Their growth continues and I become a more effective manager.

I observed a partner in a CPA firm who, rather than spend time teaching his staff, preferred to do the simpler work himself because it "saved time". He found himself constantly falling behind because the complex work that only he could do remained in piles on his desk. If this brilliant technician had taken the time to simply teach his staff, he would have been freed up forever. This is the perfect application of the old proverb "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime."

Any manager will fall behind schedule when they fail to delegate those things their staff should be doing. Being expedient (I'll just get this done myself) is usually not effective in the long run. Spend 80 percent of your time doing what only you can do. Delegate the rest.

41 - Clear, unambiguous communication is as rare as competent leadership.

Clear unambiguous communication is rare. Why? Because the initiator of the communication must take time to think. You would think that providing direction or clearly defining what someone must deliver is worth the careful thought required. When time is given to clearly specify what is wanted and what successful delivery looks like, all ambiguity surrounding the communication is removed.

And, sometimes in spite of careful preparation, a message sent is not the one that is received.

This brings us to step two of unambiguous communication: Receiving feedback to verify correct receipt of a message. Feedback is a simple way of ensuring your message was communicated exactly as you meant it to be. This critical second step does take a little more time than just giving directions and saying, "You figure it out." Without the second step, people will sometimes get it right, but usually they don't.

Poor communication is yet another reason why companies frequently miss plan and fail to achieve their objectives on time and budget. You might be saying, "I don't see this attention to communication very often." The reason you don't is that clear unambiguous communication is very rare, as rare as competent leadership.

42 - Two important predictors of management ability are self esteem and self confidence.

I have already stated my belief that competent managers are rare indeed. The percentage of really good managers at best is only about 5% of all those in actual management positions. Yet, this small group of competent managers typically has two important characteristics in common: high self esteem and strong self confidence.
These two important characteristics can be defined as:

• Self esteem: my true inward feelings about myself - absolute truth. If I like who I am, respect myself enough to set appropriate boundaries, can forgive myself when I make mistakes and do not need to pat myself on the back, I have a healthy self esteem. This is the person I regard as having their head on straight.

• Self confidence: my outward reflection of my self esteem - close to truth. A healthy self esteem results in a healthy (not out of balance) self-confidence that is reflected in a manager's ability to 1) gain commitment from and hold those who report to them accountable 2) measure and take on reasonable risk 3) not blame others but take responsibility for results.

Because management requires achieving goals and meeting due dates on time and on budget through and with other people, success is difficult and challenging during the best of times. When a manager lacks confidence in her ability to deliver, she won't. And those who report to such a manager are rarely happy.

Those companies which consistently do a good job of identifying people with high levels of self esteem and self confidence will be rewarded with well managed companies!

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Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit

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