Under-Delegation – How to cripple an advisory firm

Know any Texans?

If you have to think about it, the answer is probably no.

These guys stand out.

I’ve been there several times and have never met a timid one.

In the early 1980s, I worked in a small Australian software firm founded by Bruce – a tall, lanky Texan.

Bruce loved his TexMex food, sports, and bad jokes.

He believed non-Texans, and in particular, Australians were quirky.

He had this plaque on his cluttered desk with a quote that says something like – “Are you here with the solution, or are you part of the problem?”

Today I realise I am the cause of most of my problems, but my 1980s version didn’t.

Getting Bruce’s help with a tough work issue followed a consistent pattern back then.

He’d wait until I had explained what I thought was my issue, then stare at me with the longest of frustrating silences. He then picked up that stupid plaque asking if I’d thought about other perspectives that might resolve my problem.

Bruce’s long silences taught many members of that 1980s software team valuable lessons in problem-solving – we are often the cause of most of our problems.

So is the cause of the biggest crippler of advisory firms – under-delegation.


It is no coincidence that after these Covid years, the keynote speaker at our next conference is Cheryl Chantry.

Cheryl will share her learnings on how various teams have grown through fixed and growth mindsets – the research work initially developed by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck.

Fundamentally, fixed mindsets fuel many things, including the growth of under-delegation muscles.

No one starts their career as a trusted adviser. However, that is the status that most advisers aspire towards.

Those with fixed mindsets are more likely to develop habits, behaviours and practices to retrace, replay and reinforce the experiences they performed when clients confirmed their role as a trusted adviser.

Those with growth mindsets, however, are more willing to try different approaches as they progress. Those with growth mindsets tend to be more confident with failure and less anxious or attached to practices that may no longer serve them.

Under-delegation is similar to but different to perfectionism.

Under-delegators fear losing control greater than they fear not performing perfectly in their role.

As no one has yet been born that is either perfect or in total control, perfectionists and under-delegators can, without treatment, make their working lives and the lives of those working with them harder than it needs to be.

In fact, it often cripples a firm.


Under-delegation is excused as a genuine desire to serve clients.

The consultant’s consultant, David Maister, highlighted the problem of under-delegation twenty years ago in Managing the Professional Service Firm.

He estimated ridiculously high percentages of 50% of a senior professional’s time could be delegated to an up-and-coming talent, assuming the talent receives the training and support to conduct the work with quality.

His simple question is still pertinent today – “What percentage of what you do today could be done by someone else, more junior, if that person receives the training and support to deliver the work in a quality manner?”

The follow-up question I ask is, “What percentage of what you do today shouldn’t you be doing?”

The usual response is about 30%.

It’s a common problem, often with a predictable solution based upon appropriate team coaching and skilling.

But as fixed mindsets weave the most challenging growth paths, skills and coaching are not enough.

A more significant issue needs addressing first.

Founders who have faced and endured the vulnerability and risks of starting a firm rarely wish to experience that uncertainty again.

Unfortunately for those with firmly fixed mindsets, as businesses succeed and grow, so do the uncertainties they encounter.

Those with growth mindsets are more comfortable with failure and lean into delegation.

Those with fixed mindsets are less comfortable with failure and lean into under-delegation, believing their control is crucial to repeating the success they have experienced.

Those with fixed mindsets confuse control and anxiety.

If the anxiety of vulnerability is left untreated, no amount of new skilling, frameworks, systems or plans will overcome the control mechanisms created by an under-delegation culture.

Ichak Adezes described this state as being caught in the ‘founders trap’ when the up-and-coming talent does not get the support, skill and courage to grow because their founders lack the same.


Like leaving a child on their first day of school, founders find it difficult to let their firms grow beyond the control they fictitiously believe they have over their professional destiny.

The fundamental issue driving under-delegation is the lack of courage needed to endure the vulnerability to increased costs, risk of failure and uncontrollable outcomes that will arise when delegating.

Brene Brown suggests vulnerability is not about being weak but just the opposite.

It is about courage.

Growth is most demanding for those that have to grow the most.

But as Bruce repeatedly reminded his team in the 1980s, there is something more brutal.

The failure to realise that you might be the problem potentially wastes years searching for the wrong approaches to solve the wrong problem.

Y’all do what you gotta do.

What do you reckon?



Photo credit: istock_1259195116



For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His consulting firm, Certainty Advice Group, coaches, trains, and builds advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, with fees priced purely on value. He is growing a strong and collaborative community of advisory firms aligned on Australia’s only Certification Mark advice standard for comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice.  He has authored four books regarding financial advice, with his latest – What Price Value – available now since its release in March 2022.


Certainty Growth Day

A one-day workshop that aims to help support
and accelerate the growth of financial advisory teams seeking to advance the value for their clients and returns for their advisory businesses. 

Non-Members Fee: $480+GST/seat

Thursday, September 15th 2022
Manly Pacific Hotel
9:00 am – 4:30 pm

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