Growing by Letting Go

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In late October, 20 businesses gathered at the LinkedIn campus in Mountain View, California for a unique boot camp. While there, they received social media and growth advice from Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO; Jennifer Piepszak, CEO of business banking at JPMorgan Chase; and Marcus Lemonis of CNBC’s The Profit, among other experts. These 20 businesses were recipients of Chase’s Mission Main Street Grants (R), a program that awards grants to spur business growth. This is the third in a series of articles from that event.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has long had a reputation as an excellent people manager–he routinely ranks near the top of the “, a poll of employees from career community Glassdoor.

So it’s apt that during a Q&A session moderated by Jennifer Piepszak, CEO of business banking at JPMorgan Chase, entrepreneurs sought Weiner’s advice on a common concern: How can a business owner delegate tasks so he can focus on growing the company? For example, one small business owner in attendance told Weiner that he felt frustrated trying to coach employees to handle tasks that were intuitive to him and which they did not do as well immediately.

Weiner said a small business owner must catch himself when he’s frustrated in this kind of situation. “You need to become a spectator to your thoughts when you become emotional,” he said. “You need to quiet your mind at that moment and ask why you’re becoming frustrated. It’s the difference between coaching and venting.”

Use Empathy to Improve Efficiency

Weiner referred to a book he keeps on his nightstand, The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, which provides teachings from the Dalai Lama. He said this book provided him with a key lesson in mentoring: the difference between compassion, which means walking a mile in another person’s shoes, and empathy, which is feeling what another person feels.

Weiner offered an example from the Dalai Lama’s book about traveling along a trail and coming to a person who is being crushed by a boulder. The empathetic reaction would be to have the same sense of crushing suffocation, rendering you unable to help.

However, the compassionate reaction is to put yourself in the sufferer’s shoes, and try to understand how horrible the experience is for the person, so you do everything you can to remove the boulder and take away their suffering.

From a business owner’s standpoint, this can be a simple-to-learn but difficult-to-master way to improve efficiency. An owner needs to be empathetic and compassionate about why employees are struggling, so he or she can mentor them effectively.

Weiner noted that this is particularly true when dealing with staff or colleagues who have challenging personalities. “It’s not enough to be compassionate with people you like,” he said. “Compassion is not conditional.”

P&L Implications

Weiner thinks a CEO and the leadership team should understand the importance of growing their skills, from solving problems to coaching others, in order to achieve business results. He says employees must be encouraged to think like owners, understanding the profit and loss implications of their decisions.

With this approach, becoming a good coach also makes good business sense. Finding ways to build workers’ skills, so tasks can increasingly be delegated, is a key to growth, according to Christopher Collins, associate professor at Cornell University and director of the university’s Center for Advanced Human Resources Studies. Consequently, building workers’ strengths builds profits.

“If an entrepreneur tries to do all the work himself, or micromanage the people he hires to do the work, he’s limiting the growth of his company to a certain size,” Collins says.

Collins’ research found that when a business had massive growth, one of the founder’s biggest challenges was retaining the culture as a workforce increases from a few people to a 100 or more who the founder no longer sees or interacts with on a regular basis.

“One of the challenges small-business owners face is they probably got out of a big corporate environment, or never got into it, because they didn’t want a systemized routine,” Collins says. “But a small business can never get to the next level unless the owner creates a formula that allows him to give up control and build up the skills of his workforce.”

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