Caps for Sale!

How handing off hats to superstars lets managers steer the ship instead of fixing the engines.

SenderoHave you ever been in a position where you had to wear multiple hats and sometimes felt overwhelmed? Where you had so much to do that it was hard to think straight and get organized?

I felt that way many times over the years—especially as the mother of triplet toddlers and a grade-schooler, also responsible for scaling a management consulting organization from two to two hundred and beyond. In the early days of that journey, my reading material was more nursery school than business school. I sometimes felt like the main character in Esphyr Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale, a hat peddler who stacks his merchandise on his head and walks through towns calling, “Caps for sale! 50 cents a cap!” Each role I had to play was another hat, and keeping them all balanced on my head was a challenge. 

The difference between the hat peddler and me was that in the early days it wasn’t an option to sell any caps. On the family side, I considered it a privilege to be a parent and enjoyed devoting time to my kids. On the company front, we were a start-up operating on a shoestring. To get the company off the ground, we each had to play multiple roles.

When we started our company, my husband and I did everything: helping our clients by day and doing everything else—payroll, desktop support, marketing, and more—at night. Have you been there? Like pursuing a graduate degree while working full time, caring for an aging parent when you still have kids in the house, or taking a leadership role in a volunteer organization while focusing on your career—most of us go through periods of being overcommitted. It might be necessary, or it might just be so important to you that you are willing to make sacrifices to do it. Regardless, it’s exhausting.

As we grew our company, it became abundantly clear we couldn’t keep going at that pace. Our consultants were doing an amazing job of taking care of our clients, and our growing company needed the same kind of attention. Recognizing when to bring in help, who to hire, and how to evolve over time was key to our survival. We had to learn to hand over our caps wisely so we could elevate our focus and unleash the potential of the company.

We made the decision to hire more leaders, adopting the philosophy of surrounding ourselves with quality. As new leaders came on board, we started handing off hats—client delivery, bookkeeping, talent management…we hired or promoted superstars for each role we handed over, and our confidence in their ability to excel freed us to focus elsewhere.

What a difference…two hats down, then three, then more! As our executives took on client and operational leadership roles, my husband and I were able to focus more on our company’s strategy and culture. We could steer the ship instead of fixing the engines.

This philosophy of handing off hats to qualified leaders and continuing to elevate your role has enabled us to thrive for almost 15 years of continued growth. Instead of being exhausted, we are amazed at what our team is accomplishing and energized by having the time to figure out what’s next.

If you are feeling overcommitted, stop to think about how many hats you are wearing and which ones you can hand off. Think about how you can build your professional or personal team so you can spend your time on the things only YOU can do.

Try it, and I predict your new mantra will be, “Caps for sale!”

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