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The Art Of Letting Go

Guide and utilize the creative talents of your team members rather than stifle their potential contributions.

By Jim Cozzie, Brenton Productions

There comes a time in almost every entrepreneur’s career when you scratch your head and wonder why the business has become so hard to manage. Government regulations? To be sure. Business has grown? Hopefully so. Larger staff? Had to do it.

Still, none of these elements that exist in most successful enterprises seem to exhibit enough of a challenge to explain why you have (insert your selection here): less leisure time; fewer projects completed; a new catalog unfinished; or, you just can’t seem to get around to launching that new widget.

Jim CozzieWell, you know the drill.

We all go to great pains to hire talented staff that hopefully 1) knows more than we do about the myriad subjects and technologies required in today’s business climate, 2) provides a positive environment where staff looks forward to coming into work every day, and 3) supplies the best information and technology available to ensure everyone has the data needed to make intelligent, informed decisions about their individual job responsibilities.

And yet, we seem to struggle to accomplish all that we have planned.

What could possibly be causing this dilemma?

“Run that by me before you act.” “Be sure I approve every purchase order.” “I have to approve all travel plans—no one else can do that.” “Who put orange soda in the soda machine? I did not authorize that!”

Sound familiar? Are the bells ringing yet?

Ask any successful military leader and he’ll tell you the single most important key to winning a war is…the troops!

Of course, this applies to the battlefield of business as well. It takes the full effort of the contingent to accomplish lofty goals, yet many business leaders either fail to realize this or, perhaps more likely, fail to put faith in their people.

It’s a well-known fact that “many” can accomplish more than “one” in a given amount of time. Yet, business people who must ask themselves the questions we listed at the start of this column, over and over again, refuse to grasp why.

So let’s take a simple scenario. You hired (only you can do this, remember?) a bright, young engineer to lead the product development tasks at your company. After a few months of getting to know the person, and the person getting to know you and the company, it should be time to cut him loose to do the things he was hired to do. So you figure that (and remember, in this example you are not an engineer) for some time you’ll have to keep a close eye on what the new employee is doing. After all, he can’t know what you know.

So what happens? Everything the newbie does has to be run by you, approved by you, and in most cases changed by you. The scenario continues indefinitely—except that after a while, the newbie is not a newbie anymore. And by now he’s grown weary of having to change most of what he completes for the company (after it’s been tweaked by you).

What happens next is classic: The engineer develops an “I’ll do whatever you want” attitude. After all, in this scenario he can only put up with having his thoughts or ideas changed—or outright rejected—for so long.

Once it reaches this point, are you realistically getting all the creativity you paid for? Probably not. Are you realizing new ways to engineer a product? Nope.

Instead, you’re getting what you always got, because it has to be your idea! Is that why you hired this bright young engineer in the first place? Of course not…at least not on purpose, anyway.

So imagine for a moment this scenario, multiplied by however many people are in your organization, and one can begin to grasp a big part of the problem.

When members of any company develop the “I’ll do whatever you want” attitude, the battle is lost. Getting that person back to being a thinker, an innovator, or just the person that exclaims at a meeting, “Hey, I have an idea!” now becomes very difficult, sometimes even impossible.

So let’s break that cycle.

The first step toward change is making sure you are fully aware of your duties as the leader of the company. Leaders do more leading and less doing in the due course of business. In other words, vision, guidance and support equal leadership. You know, the one with the baton leading the orchestra, or the one on the bridge of the ship, looking out over the bow into the horizon—that person? That’s you. Or it should be.

By revisiting your leadership duties, and practicing the difficult art of letting go and delegating to your team the everyday tasks that need to be completed, some amazing things will happen inside your company. The power of the sum of the whole will accomplish the stuff, big and small, near term and long term, that is needed to achieve great results using greatly reduced timelines. In simple terms: Accomplish more, with greater efficiency, in less time.

As the leader of any company, you have to rely on your most valuable asset—your people. And not surprisingly, people in general will respond in ways that will astound you… if you allow them.

We’ve all heard the adage: People will rise to the level of expectations. It’s simple, but really pretty effective when you think about it.

Here’s a challenge, something for you to try. And you’ll discover that, as a result of this exercise, your company’s performance will begin to change. Or, you may realize that you are just not capable of letting go, that you must touch everything that flows through your business.

It’s like trying to couple a water main to a pipe the size of a drinking straw. And my guess is that if one could accommodate such a union, the water flow becomes severely diminished!

So try this on your next project: Pick the people in your organization you want to lead the task. Provide them with your vision of what the project is, what defines success, and what it will mean to the company, as well as the budget for the task in terms of time, money and other resources. Share with the team particular elements of the project that are important to the company, and to you.

Imagine all of this drawn in a box, with a straight line running from bottom to top, labeled “start” to “finish.”

The challenge for your team is to move from beginning to end with all the criteria you provided, and to stay within the confines of the box. Remember, you defined the rules of the box, so remaining inside the lines should be achievable without further approval.

For those of us in the mode of having to touch every detail of every element in our company, this change in management style will be, to say the least, difficult, and will feel quite unnatural. So start small. Measure outcomes with consistent criteria, and then ramp up with additional projects and people.

You will marvel at the results, and you may even surprise yourself in rising to the lofty level of your expectations… of you!


Former board chairman of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Jim Cozzie held senior-level positions with a number of leading and iconic aftermarket companies including Hurst Performance Inc., Super Press Inc., B&M Racing and Performance Products, and Zoom Performance Products. He currently is a Managing Partner at Brenton Productions, producer of the popular automotive how-to shows Two Guys Garage, Car Fix, Truck U and All Girls Garage. Cozzie can be reached at



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