In the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq, I was in charge of a detachment of Marines guarding civilian ships in the Persian Gulf. Our mission was to protect the vessels against boat born IED’s like the one that killed 17 sailors on the USS Cole in October of 2000. We maintained a 24 hour watch, both at sea and in port, with Marines armed with machine guns covering all directions of approach.

In the middle of this mission, I discovered that our standards had started to slip and the teams weren’t properly changing over the guard. The impact of this was that Marines weren’t fully prepared to repulse an attack while they were on post.

I decided to fix things by personally managing the change over of each shift.

“F*ck no!” One of my team leaders, Arciga, told me. “You always do ths s%$#!”

“What are you talking about?!” I asked him.

“Something gets messed up and you step in and take control. You always have to control everything. It’s my and the other team leader’s jobs. We screwed up. We’ll fix it.”

Arciga was my subordinate, but he was also a peer who knew me and a good Marine. I stayed out of it and he and the other team leaders corrected the issue.

I’ll always be grateful to him for challenging my decision because he taught me something I didn’t know about myself and an important lesson on leadership.

Most entrepreneurs end up on the business path in large part because they want to retain control.

This can hamper growth because, in an effort to ensure things end up “right,” you insert yourself into operational work. The consequence of this is that you’re not giving your full attention to the business problems that only you can solve. And as importantly, you’re actively disempowering your team.

Where you make yourself integral to the work, you remove their responsibility and limit their opportunity for growth.

If you want to grow to the next level, you need to restrain the need for control and step back so that your team can step forward.

The mechanism that I use is to limit my availability. The opposite of an “open door” policy, I’m only available to our team a few days a week. This won’t work for every business, but it is a great tool to support the development of your team’s capabilities.

What constraints could you implement to ensure your team owns operations?

Featured image is a Roman mosaic from Tunisia showing a trireme vessel during the Roman Empire. The trireme derives its name from its three (tri) rows of oars (reme.) Provided by Mathiasrex and used under CC 2.5 without any changes made to the original.