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How David Schottenstein stopped being a micromanager and learned to delegate Featured

6:51am EDT October 7, 2010

David Schottenstein’s wife was at her breaking point. If this

was what life married to a CEO was going to be all about, she wanted no part of

it.

“I was on a holiday trip with my family, and it was supposed

to be a vacation,” says Schottenstein, founder and CEO at Astor & Black

Custom Clothiers Ltd. “But I spent 99 percent of my time on the phone,

literally sitting on the beach with my wife. … And my wife told me, ‘Listen. I

don’t care how much money you make. I don’t care how big this company gets. If

this is what it’s going to be like, no thanks.’”

Schottenstein had become a micromanager. His 80-employee formal

clothing business, which did $11.4 million in 2009 sales, was growing and

required a lot of hands-on leadership. But that leadership was coming at the

expense of his family. And as it turned out, it really wasn’t helping his

business either.

“It limited growth because one person can only be in so many

places at one time,” Schottenstein says. “It’s very difficult to let go of any

aspect of your business. It’s kind of like a child. You put all this time and

energy into it and you don’t want to let it go. You’re always scared some idiot

is going to come along and mess it up and ruin your reputation.”

But Schottenstein knew he had to change and get others

involved in leading his business. He began by accepting that he wasn’t the best

person for every job in the company.

“If someone looks at the areas they are involved in and says,

‘Well, I’m just fabulous at everything I do,’ then I would tell you to get

real,” Schottenstein says. “We can’t be good at everything. That’s the best way

to identify the spots you need to take a step away from.”

Schottenstein was pleased with suit sales but noticed that tie

sales were “lagging horribly.” He was also concerned that Astor & Black

didn’t have a defined social media strategy.

“When you spread yourself too thin, you give 60 percent here

and 40 percent there,” Schottenstein says. “Give 110 percent to a few key areas

and let someone else give 110 percent and don’t spread yourself too thin.”

If you find that too hard to do by yourself, put a board

together of people outside the company who you can trust to provide honest

feedback.

“You have to find people that aren’t satisfied with great,

they want exceptional,” Schottenstein says. “I found successful people and

people that I make their clothes and I have gotten fairly close to them. I’m

constantly trying to hear from them. What makes you tick? What would you do in

this situation? What would you recommend? Sometimes they don’t want to be

bothered with it. But that’s part of being an entrepreneur. You don’t take no

for an answer.”

Your reaction to criticism can go a long way toward encouraging

people to be straight with you.

“There are moments when you want to freak out and go crazy on

someone,” Schottenstein says. “All you’re doing is telling those people, ‘Don’t

ever tell this guy bad news because if you do, he’s going to go crazy on you.’

Praise in public and criticize in private.

“You have to listen to criticism, and you have to have people

around you that are willing to criticize. Because if you just let everyone blow

sunshine up your ass all day, you won’t get anywhere.”

Today, Schottenstein shares the duties of leading his business.

He even hired a president.

“Everything is different,” Schottenstein says. “There are

actually people who are held accountable for each and every department. When I

was doing it on my own, every single item and every single thing was me, me,

me.”

Like any addiction, micromanagement is not an easy thing to

give up.

“It’s a leap of faith,” Schottenstein says. “I don’t think

there’s a way to make it comfortable other than to do it gradually.”

Give people a chance

When you stop micromanaging, you give yourself time to focus

on what you do best. But you also give talented employees a better opportunity

to stretch themselves and develop their own skills.

“It’s like using a Mercedes to deliver pizzas,” says David

Schottenstein, founder and CEO at Astor & Black Custom Clothiers Ltd.

“Sometimes you have a Mercedes in your office and all you have them doing is

the equivalent of delivering pizzas. You don’t realize that this guy could do

way more if someone just asked him to step up to the plate and do it.”

It’s all about what you want your business to be, Schottenstein

says.

“It boils down to wanting to do too much as an individual. At

a certain point, if you want your business to be successful and to grow and

become bigger than a one-man show, you have to bring on good people that you

trust and know can do the job right. You have to delegate.”

And true delegation means you don’t give someone a task and

then stand over his or her shoulder and make the person check in with you every

step of the way.

“You have to say, ‘Listen, I trust you,’” Schottenstein says.

“I’m going to step back and let you do your thing.”

How to reach: Astor & Black Custom Clothiers Ltd., (877) 278-6718 or

www.astorandblack.com.