“If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.”
– Richard Branson, British entrepreneur

That quote is as true of entrepreneurs as it is of rising managers and executives. One of the easiest things to delegate is problem solving. It is also one of the things that uses up the most mind-share, and therefore energy.

A way to do that most easily is to implement the 1-3-1 leadership rule of delegating problem solving. Here is a link to a quick overview where you learn more about it.

However, if you don’t even have three minutes to read that, here is what the 1-3-1 rule is in a nutshell: for each problem someone brings to you to solve, ask them to also present you with three possible solutions, and one of those solutions they would recommend.One1 problem, three possible solutions, one recommendation. 1-3-1.

The bottom line is that those under you in your organizations should be doing the hard work of thinking through issues, risks and options under their area of direct accountability, not you. As their leader, you should be doing the probing and deciding.

If you get in this habit and delegate problem solving to those accountable for implementing the solution, you should experience the following benefits.


  • Some of your employees will welcome this development. They were probably wanting to show you what they are capable of, but may have felt that you never let them. These are likely to become your future leaders as you continue to grow your business.
  • People will come to you with some interesting and creative options, ones you yourself would not have thought of. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprized.
  • Eventually people will stop coming to you for solutions to the lower level problems in their area of accountability. This will free up a lot of your time. They will come to the conclusion that they already know what they must do. Plus, having to think through everything in order to come to you will come to be seen as redundant, low value work (which it is).
  • Eventually, rather than looking up to you as a great problem solver, people will respect you for your abilities to mage decisions and delegate. Basically, this is a higher form of respect for a true leader: an analyst solves problems; a leader decides.

However, before you reap those benefits, you must also prepare for some negative changes you’ll experience. And just a word of warning: these will come first.

  • Initially, some (or many) employees will really struggle with this. They may not be confident in their problem solving ability. However, they will not gain confidence by you continuing to solve their problems for them. To develop people so they become the best they can be, it is necessary not to take the struggle away from them.
  • You will suddenly become less popular and may feel less liked. That may be hard for you, and what you are experiencing is likely genuine. After all, you used to be so helpful, kind and generous with your time. Even though they report to you, you were their best, most reliable employee. You could always be counted on to do the hard work of thinking for them. Now you’ve become less cooperative. You just delegate back to them.
  • Once people stop coming to you with every single issue they have, you may get the uncomfortable feeling that you are missing something important. Relax, this will pass after a while. The reality is that the important stuff is really scary, so people will feel compelled to come to you. Besides, you are still encouraging them to come to you, it’s just that you insist they come better prepared.

Then, with the remaining problems, you’ll be doing a lot more deciding and a lot less of the hard work of thinking through options. And that will bring your stress down too.

One caveat

Finally, a (very) few direct reports may resist outright. That initial struggle that many feel initially will persist in some way with these outliers. These individuals will continue to insist they cannot come up with solutions, or may offer very immature and possibly quite ridiculous solutions and recommendations.

When this happens, do NOT fall into their trap. Don’t tell yourself that it’s faster just to solve it for them (it is, but the point is that you want to effect organizational change in behaviour that benefits you).

Initially send them back to the drawing board, a few times if you have to. If this really persists, then this really does become your problem. And then you may have some difficult decisions to make.

This may or may not happen to you. In any case, once you have implemented this rule you will wonder why you haven’t done this before. And, you’ll have more time on your hands to wonder about that! And that’s a good thing.



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