Let Go of the Vine…One Leaf at a Time

beautiful tree

During my first full-day session together with a new client, I share the story of an Entrepreneur not willing to “let go of the vine”.  As Gino Wickman tells it, an entrepreneur falls off a cliff and grabs hold of a vine on his plunge downward. Hanging there; a thousand feet down to craggy rock death and a thousand feet up he can’t climb; he looks up to the heaven’s in a rare moment of religion and says, “Is there anybody up there?”  

Unbelievably, a deep voice bellows down and asks, “Do you believe?” 

Thinking he has nothing to lose, the entrepreneur says (sheepishly), “Yes(?)” 

“Then let go of the vine.”

“Is there anybody else up there?” he responds. 

The point is to illustrate that most entrepreneurs and business leaders often get to where they are by making most of the decisions and doing much of the work. However, this only gets you so far and eventually you will become the bottleneck in your organization.  For us to grow, our organizations to grow, and our team members to grow-we MUST learn to let go of the vine-in other words, empower our employees to do their job so we can do ours. This is so important that we have developed specific tools to help leadership teams do this when implementing EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System) in their organizations. The Delegate & Elevate tool, along with the Accountability Chart, help our clients better understand and define their own unique abilities: the things they love to do and are great at doing. Most of the time-those tools are enough. However, occasionally I have a leader who has done the work, but hasn’t really let go… 

Where many of us struggle (myself included), is in truly letting go of responsibilities, activities, decisions, to our direct reports. A book I read recently, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, revealed an additional tool to help us do just that: the Decision Tree. Think of your business as a tree with leaves, branches, a trunk and roots. What happens if you tear a leaf off of a tree? Not much. The tree lives on. However, if you damage the roots you could have total devastation on your hands. 

How does this help me to grow my people and ensure I am delegating the right level of decision-making authority in order to free up my time to do what only I can do? 

First, you must determine which decisions are “leaf level” decisions, which are “branch level”, “trunk level” and finally “root level”. Said another way, what would the impact of a wrong decision be to the organization? This is the hard part because it speaks not only to the impact of the decision, but also to the competence of the team members in those areas (what might be a branch level for one person is a leaf level for another who is highly competent in that particular arena). Once you have a clearly defined the types of decisions for that individual, follow a simple set of ground rules with your direct reports:

  • Leaf Level Decision: Decide, act, don’t tell me about it
  • Branch Level Decision: Decide, act, report to me after (as often as needed)
  • Trunk Level Decision: Decide, report to me, act
  • Root Level Decision: Requires input from many people, or I am not willing to delegate

The goal for both you and your direct reports is to move more of their decisions to leaf and branch level-freeing you up and allowing them to grow and develop into stronger leaders in your organizations. This fosters independence, not dependence. (And yes, this would be a great tool to introduce to your burgeoning teenagers at home!)

Once you have created  a clear vision and path for your organization, articulate each person’s roles and responsibilities with clear expectations and outcomes. Give them the appropriate decision-making authority using the decision tree tool. If you have the Right People in the Right Seats, then let them shine! If you find delegating and elevating effectively is difficult,  take it one step (or leaf) at a time and watch your organizational tree flourish!


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