Build a Better Business Podcast

Empowering Your Managers To Be Leaders

3 Key Points in this Episode:

  1. Understanding the difference between empowerment and “passing the buck.”
  2. Collaborating on the development of solutions that are consistent with your dream for the business.
  3. Supporting your managers when everything is going in the wrong direction.

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Welcome to episode 86, this is part 3 and the conclusion of the mini-series, Build a Better Business – Managers That Lead.

In part 2 of this mini-series, we talked about why many managers struggle with making decisions and handle confrontation, how to develop a manager’s strengths and understand their weaknesses, and which weaknesses you can work around and which you cannot. You can get all this in episode 84.

There are three key things you will learn in part 3 of the Managers That Lead mini-series:

  1. Understanding the difference between empowerment and “passing the buck.”
  2. Collaborating on the development of solutions that are consistent with your dream for the business.
  3. Supporting your managers when everything is going in the wrong direction.

Let’s get started.

Empowerment vs. “Passing the Buck”

When you first started your business, or you first assumed a leadership role you probably felt a little overwhelmed. In time you settled into your role and you got more comfortable but it’s still a lot.

One of the challenges of being the leader of a business is that the responsibility of every decision, made by you personally or the people within your business, falls on your shoulders and your shoulders alone.

Perhaps in time, you added to your team and finally, you found someone reliable and capable to help you. You were no longer alone, and this was a relief to you.

You started to delegate to this person more and more tasks. You’re the boss after all and everyone says, “work on your business, not in your business.” The things you are delegating are really the working “in” your business everyone is talking about, so it is exactly the stuff you should be delegating right?

Well, possibly but as with most things, it depends on the situation.

There is a very big difference between delegating things that you should be responsible for and empowering a manager to be a leader.

Empowering is when you provide someone with the environment and resources to do something, they are responsible for.

“Passing the buck” is when you ask someone to take care of something that you should be doing.

Do you see the difference?

In one scenario you are helping the person do what they should be doing in the first place. In the other situation, you are asking something of someone that they should never be expected to be responsible for.

Let me give you an example.

It would be inappropriate to ask a midlevel operations manager to decide about the acquisition of another business. On the other hand, a COO who is responsible for mergers and acquisitions should be given all the resources necessary to make the deal.

I would like you to audit yourself, regardless if you are the leader, manager, or employee. The question you should be asking is, “am I passing the responsibility of something that I should be doing on to someone else?”

If you discover that you have been “passing the buck”, I want you to make a sincere effort to resolve the matter and apologize to the person that has been picking up the slack for you.

Now let’s talk about truly empowering your managers to be leaders in your business.

Your managers need three things to form the foundation of their leadership success:

  1. They must possess the personality profile required to do the job. We covered this in detail in part 1 and part 2 of this mini-series.
  2. They require the training and/or education to do the job correctly.
  3. They need the environment and resources to not only make decisions but to be involved in creating customized solutions to ongoing business challenges that will arise.

When I say that they need to have an environment conducive to be a manager that leads I mean that you must give your managers all the support they will require to execute on their managerial responsibilities.

This means that you will need to create a management system. A system that has been thoroughly tested by you the leader. Nothing should be left to chance. You need to give your managers a “playbook” that covers all the annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily (if necessary) tasks and objectives that they are responsible for achieving.

Then you must support each manager with the accomplishment of those objectives and finally, you need to ensure that you have allocated enough resources to each department so that the manager can be successful.

Let me illustrate how not to do this to drive home the point.

When I was an operations manager, I was responsible for 17 employees and a remanufacturing division. About halfway through my 10-years at this company the company was sold a new owner took over. Now up until this time, we had been working hard to achieve and maintain an ISO 9000 series of international standards.

As you can imagine our facility was spotless, the floors were painted, there were yellow lines on the floor that indicated where people should walk and where it was dangerous for a person to be when the equipment was in operation. It was a lot of hard work and required high levels of organization, but the senior leadership gave me everything I needed to accomplish the task. It required man-hours and resources to keep the facility in this condition.

When the new owner took over, he immediately cut all the resources that I used to maintain the facility. What happened? Well, of course, we were unable to maintain that high standard and 5-years later the facility was disorganized, the painted floors had been worn down to concrete, the yellow lines were all but gone and we no longer had our ISO 9000 certification.

This had far-reaching consequences which included the loss of a major international contract and eventually, this owner was forced to sell the business at a reduced price.

It didn’t matter how hard we worked, with the removal of the resources that standard could not be maintained, and everyone paid a price for it. You must provide your managers with the environment and the resources to be leaders.

Collaborate When Creating Solutions

No matter how amazing your dream is for your business, no matter how elegant or simple your plan is, and no matter how diligently you work to execute on your plan you and your business is going to encounter problems.

It’s not if it will happen, it is simply when will it happen!

For managers to be effective leaders they will require you to support them when challenges occur. But even though you are undoubtedly a great leader yourself it is likely that you will not always be able to come up with the best solutions.

This is where your managers can be a tremendous asset to you. If they are doing their jobs correctly, they will have insight into what is happening on the ground in real time. When a problem comes up, the best solutions will come from collaborating with your team.

There is an ancient proverb that says, “with a multitude of counselors there is an accomplishment.”

Don’t be arrogant and don’t try to carry the entire load yourself. If your managers are leaders, they are going to want to be part of the solution and they will want to help you solve the problems because after all, they will believe in the dream of your business as much as you do.

Now one word of caution:

You are the leader of your business, so although you will collaborate with your managers and try to develop the best solution possible, it is your responsibility to make the final decision. It is your manager’s responsibility to accept that decision and work diligently to make the solution work even if it wasn’t a solution they had voted for. That is a truly collaborative decision. Managers need to understand that sometimes they aren’t going to get everything they want but they need to trust you that you will give them what they need to get the job done.

What happens when everyone has done what they were supposed to do and yet you find your business in a crisis?

I will answer that after we hear from our sponsors.

Before the break, we asked the question, what happens when everyone has done what they were supposed to do and yet you find your business in a crisis?

Supporting Your Managers When Everything is Going Wrong

Do you remember what it was like to be in business in 1982, 1990, 2000, or 2008, or 2015?

If your thinking that those years sound familiar, but you have tried to erase them from your memory it is because those were years that we experienced “bear markets” that were caused by global economic forces far outside any of our control.

On average we experience a “bear market” every five years. We experience a correction every single year. This has been going on for hundreds of years and will continue long after we all retire.

This means that you can do everything right and everything can still go wrong. This is when leadership at every level of your business is paramount. I have worked through the last three bear markets, namely the collapse of the technology bubble in 2000, the financial crisis of 2008, and the stock market selloff of 2015 that has caused havoc on the commodities such as oil.

Through these three “bear markets” I have learned that there are several critical things that are required from leaders at every level of a business to not only survive but in most cases thrive in the “bull markets” that always follow.

  1. The leader of the business must not panic.
  2. The managers of the business must not panic.
  3. Form a task force that includes senior leadership and mid-level managers to review, daily at first, then weekly as the crisis begins to subside, what is happening in real time. This is incredibly important, there is no room for speculation or fear.
  4. Use the task force to coordinate the business’s response.
  5. Be honest with your employees and stick to your values.
  6. Go into survival mode if you must but continue to look hard for the opportunities.

If you follow these 6 steps you can not only survive the crisis, but you can achieve geometric growth in the “bull market” that will follow. If you do this don’t you think your managers are going to not only appreciate your leadership but are also going to emulate these qualities and strategies in their departments and this will have a tremendous effect on your employees?

Nothing and I mean nothing will solidify the loyalty of your core group of managers, employees, and customers more than a business that keeps it together in the bad times. The subsequent rewards in the good times that follow are incredible.

Don’t believe me, well consider this:

  • Shortly after the technology crash in 2000, I was promoted to the position of Operations Manager when over 50% of my colleagues were let go.
  • On the heels of the financial crisis of 2008, after royally screwing up my first business venture and spending all but $700 of my money, I used my last $700 and started my contracting business which became very successful and was sold just before the full effect of the 2015 stock market selloff was felt in Canada.
  • In 2016, after the full effect of the 2015 stock market selloff and subsequent commodity prices of oil collapsed in Alberta and decimated hundreds of thousands of energy workers and businesses, my wife and I leveraged the strong performance of the contracting business we sold to insulate us from the impact of the crisis and then followed that up with our most profitable year ever in 2017.

Now I want to make something very clear to you. I am not bragging at all, I am just highlighting that when you don’t panic, and you are surrounded by great people you can not only survive the inevitable bad times, but you can thrive.

My loyalty to the leader of the business I worked for in 2000 endures to this day even though we haven’t worked together for 14-years. Why? Because he gave me a promotion and included me in the management of his company when he could have fired me during that crisis.

One of the construction workers I hired in 2009, who was laid off due to the financial crisis in 2008 that was tied to the real estate and construction industry and provided him with employment is now a truck operator and continues to work for the contracting business that I started and sold in 2016. He is one of the most loyal employees I have ever had. Why? Because when everyone else had tossed him aside I saw something in him and gave him a chance.

In late 2016, a senior leadership group that I had worked with up until the crash in 2008, found out I was in Alberta and offered me an incredible opportunity to capitalize financially on the recovery in 2017. I will never forget that, and they will never forget the performance I provided to help them have a banner year.

I hope you get the point.

Stand by your managers in times of crisis, do all you can to not panic and to capitalize on the opportunities, when you must make cuts do so ethically and stand by your values.

There is a reason that I have chosen this subject to conclude the Managers That Lead mini-series. We are due for another “bear market” and although I cannot predict when it will happen, I can predict what will happen.

To start with, it probably will be caused by something you are not suspecting, and everyone will panic. The stock market will crash, and billions of dollars will disappear overnight. The media will report day and night about it and will bring on all kinds of “experts” who will reinforce the fear everyone will be experiencing. Your business will probably not be affected immediately but in the months that come, you will feel the financial impact. People will go bankrupt, businesses will close, and it will feel like it is never going to be good again.

It’s at this moment that something magical happens. Remember the saying, “it’s darkest just before daylight” well it is true and at this moment when it feels the darkest, the greatest opportunities exist. They are there for only a few hours, days, or weeks and when the day breaks and people start to realize that we will have good times again those opportunities disappear like the shadows that disappear when the sun rises.

I want you to be ready. I want you to capitalize on these opportunities. You can start to prepare by first, becoming a leader that dreams, think bigger, dream bigger and go after that dream with everything you got.

Second, you must surround yourself with managers that are leaders. This is critically important if you are going to systemize your business, grow and be able to capitalize on the opportunities that the next “bear market” will produce.

Finally, you must allocate the resources you have today properly. You must put aside some resources that are protected from any crash so that you can first weather the financial storm and second capitalize on the opportunities that storm produces.

So, be a leader with a dream, surround yourself with managers that are leaders and build a better business!

This concludes the 3-part mini-series, Build a Better Business – Managers That Lead.

On Tuesday, in episode 87 I am going to introduce you to Crystal Webster. Crystal is a purpose-driven entrepreneur who is honoring her daughter who she lost in death only a few hours after her birth with her life’s work to help others cope with grief. Crystal recognizes that most business owners do not have a business so closely connected to grief and so Crystal breaks down the process of how customers buy you before they buy your product or service. This fundamental is part of telling any story regardless if it is a tragedy or something else.

Don’t forget I have set up a very quick survey. You can find it at jamieirvine.ca/survey. Would you please take the survey today? Your feedback is essential.


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Thank you for listening and I look forward to working with you soon.

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