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Passing the Baton: John Goullet on Letting Go of Control in Entrepreneurship

Anyone in today’s day and age who decides to pursue entrepreneurship knows to mentally prepare themselves for “the hustle.” In today’s climate new businesses must grapple with fierce competition, rapid technological advancements,attracting and retaining skilled talent, and barring an incredibly fortunate early influx of capital, funds will inevitably be tight.

For these reasons, entrepreneurs are prepared to “wear many hats.”As a startup or small business owner, an entrepreneur may need to act at any given moment as a visionary leader, product developer, marketing specialist, salesperson, financial manager, customer support representative, and the list goes on. They must quickly learn to become competent in a myriad of different skills in order to foster growth in their enterprise.

Additionally, entrepreneurs have a unique relationship to their companies, different from any other employee or leader. They have invested their time, energy, and savings into building their business from the ground up, meaning the stakes are high when it comes to its success. It is natural for them to want to have control over as many aspects of the business as possible.

Here’s the rub: a business cannot be expected to thrive on competency alone. According to John Goullet, an entrepreneur who has founded and led several companies in the IT staffing sector, his biggest mistake starting out was the length of time he spent attempting to do everything himself.

Goullet founded his company Info Technologies, Inc. in 1994 during a period of massive growth in Internet adoption. He had previously built a successful career in computer consulting, but noticed while working as an IT staffing account executive that the industry lacked a company that could provide these services at the scale needed for Fortune 500 companies. His business quickly became one of the most successful IT staffing firms in the country, being named to Inc. Magazine’s “America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies” list and bringing in earnings upwards of $30 million within five years of operations.

While it is important to prepare oneself for the hard work and adaptability required when starting a business, this can often lead to a rigidity and fear of losing control. Entrepreneurs need to learn to trust that others will understand and share their vision, otherwise they will inevitably hold their business back.

An entrepreneur’s job is to focus on growing their business, and in the beginning this means handling much of the workload themselves. However, Goullet points out that it can be difficult to ascertain when it is the right time to “pass the baton” and allow someone else to take ownership of a position or task. Below, he provides some cues and techniques entrepreneurs can use to both identify when it is time to delegate and do so without too much internal strife.

Identify one’s core competencies

Goullet says that the first step in practically any business exercise should involve self-reflection. In the case of delegating, this means that before an entrepreneur begins creating new roles or even divvying out tasks, they should first take some time to reflect on where their core competencies lie.

It can be easy when you are an entrepreneur to become bogged down in the minutiae of running a new business and forget their primary focus. An entrepreneur’s main priority should be facilitating the growth of their company, but things under this umbrella can vary from managing employees and finances to developing new products, features and services.

When deciding to delegate, entrepreneurs should reflect on where they have been most successful in the past, the tasks they enjoy doing most, and the skills they excel at. Looking at this can help to indicate where they can choose to delegate. For example, Goullet says he always enjoyed and felt he had a core competency in building relationships with key customers and investors. This meant that when it came time to offload tasks from his plate, he ensured that this was an aspect that remained in his control.

Making the hard decisions

That being said, when deciding how one wants to delegate, entrepreneurs should also get comfortable with the fact that they will likely eventually have to give up aspects of their job that they truly enjoy. Goullet says that most entrepreneurs have a natural sense of ownership in their work, meaning they truly enjoy doing as much of the work themselves as possible. While this is certainly an admirable trait, there will eventually come a time when this inhibits good business decision-making.

Part of being an entrepreneur is doing what is best for the company, even if that means giving up an aspect of a role that is thoroughly enjoyed. Remaining objective when it comes to these decisions is imperative to ensuring delegation is happening in a way that is most effective.

Rely on company culture

A company’s culture is its DNA. Its shared values, norms and behaviors define its identity and influence how team members make decisions and work together. It would require an entirely separate article to fully espouse the importance of company culture, but in the context of delegation it still carries significant weight. Goullet emphasizes that as the founder and leader, in the DNA metaphor an entrepreneur can be likened to the nucleus of the organization. The central control center of a cell, entrepreneurs play a significant role in shaping the company’s culture which in turn determines how well their delegation efforts will play out.

If an entrepreneur has built an organization that values collaboration, mentorship, and trust, they need not worry about passing things off to members of their team. These attributes create an environment in which delegation becomes a natural part of how work is distributed and accomplished. Employees are more likely to embrace new challenges and responsibilities, and leaders can confidently delegate tasks to the right individuals.

Be proactive

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Goullet’s biggest advice to entrepreneurs about delegation is to be proactive about it. Taking on too many tasks can lead to burnout for entrepreneurs, and delegation spreads the workload, reducing the stress and pressure. It enables them to maintain a healthier work-life balance and prevent burnout, which is vital for long-term success.

Entrepreneurs must learn to recognize the signs for when their work is piling up too high, as early as possible, and take measures to address it before it becomes detrimental to their organization.

Entrepreneurship demands a mental preparedness for the challenges and responsibilities that come with starting a business. Entrepreneurs must be prepared to become competent in various skills to foster growth and success, but clinging too tightly to control can hinder a business’s progress. John Goullet’s experience exemplifies the importance of knowing when to delegate and trust others to share the entrepreneurial vision. By recognizing the right time to “pass the baton” and embrace delegation, entrepreneurs can effectively focus on growing their businesses and achieve long-term success.