Early in my career, I believed that the best way to get things done was to do them myself. After all, If I know how to make something work, I will never be at someone else’s mercy.
That sounds like a good thing, right? Not really.
I have been part of startups for most of my professional life: small businesses, churches, and nonprofits. These are great places for the high-capacity, curious learner. Small organizations and startups need a lot of different skills to function. But they seldom have the staff or budget to get all of them done.
That’s where the generalist thrives.
If you are willing to learn, you can become the IT person, the graphic artist, the social media expert, the development director, and the volunteer coordinator. And whatever other job needs to be done.
But that can only get you so far, and two outcomes often happen.
One, you get burned out. And two, the organization stops growing because you become the bottleneck because too many jobs depend on one overwhelmed person.
I was that person. And for years struggled to get past, well, myself. As much as I wanted to blame my boss, the board, or the elders for my troubles, I ultimately created more problems than I was solving.
Then I got some advice that changed the course of my career and my life.
Here it is:
“Do what only you can do to move the organization forward. The rest, leave it for someone else to do.”
Simple right? Yes. But extremely difficult for a control-freak, enneagram 8 to implement.
I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me years to let go of many “important” tasks so I could focus on the “essential” jobs that only I could do.
Over the years, I have thought about this statement more than any other advice I’ve ever gotten. Even today, when I jump in the middle of projects, I have to ask myself, “what’s the most important contribution that only I can make?”
Take some time and write a list of tasks on your plate right now. It might look like this one:
- Figure out and install new software
- Write thank you notes
- Prepare financials
- Follow up with the board
- Write the newsletter
- Post on social media
- Hire new staff
- Develop the latest initiative from last month’s board meeting
You might be saying, “That looks like my list, but you don’t understand I don’t have anyone I can trust to make it all happen.”
While you might believe that, the truth is that you have more options than you know. Take a deep breath and ask yourself: “What can I do that only I can do?”
I know you can find someone to help with software, financials, and social media. And you might even tap into a volunteer or staff to help with a new initiative.
Establishing a deeper relationship with your board and donors is perhaps the most important task you can do and, frankly, should be your priority.
This question is not one you ask once and then move on. I ask myself this same question at least once a week.
Write it down and stick it somewhere you can see often. You will thank me later.