In 1996, sitting in a lawn chair watching my kids play in the cul-de-sac, I made perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made for my firm. I didn’t know it then, but I certainly do now that I have the super power of hindsight.
Next to me was my neighbor, Brenda. She was an accomplished manager, having spent the last few years at QVC managing the quality assurance process with at least a hundred people under her charge. She and her husband had decided she should stay home for a few years to get their kids on the right path. These were the same kids that were running around, screaming with mine. I leaned over and asked her what was keeping her from entering the workforce. Without looking up, she pointed at the kids and sipped her coffee.
My first stroke of brilliance—which I’ve only had two—was to make her an offer to work with me from the time the bus left in the morning until the time it returned in the afternoon. This time, she looked up and said yes. I officially made the foray into the “mom market.”
That was more than 19 years ago. What started as just a bookkeeping position slowly grew into a role as the president of MainSpring to the current chief financial officer (CFO). Even still, her role in the firm has moved from a simple job description to a title—one that illustrates what she represents rather than just what she does. Hiring her has since allowed me to focus on what I do best. Delegation has never felt so freeing.
What’s a “Brenda” and how is it going to make you more productive?
According to the Harvard Business Review, multitasking causes a productivity loss of 25 percent for an individual and anywhere from 50 to 75 percent for an organization . Imagine if you could eliminate your to-do list for an entire facet of your company by handing it over to your “Brenda.” Imagine the value that you’ve just created for your company by removing yourself as a logjam for your firm.
I belong to a peer group and, when searching for the productivity and company value answers, we always talk about “who is your ‘Brenda’?” or “are you looking for your ‘Brenda’?” Brenda is my right-hand on this journey called MainSpring, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have her.
A “Brenda” is someone who is capable of doing all of the things that you are not good at. It’s simple—if you are technical, she is sales. If you are visionary, she is operational. She isn’t just your operations manager; a “Brenda” is your operations. She is the yin to your yang, and she helps rid you of the many functional requirements of your job so that you can focus on your business as a whole.
So, who is your “Brenda”?
- Your most trusted adviser. You have the vision. Or perhaps visions. Your “Brenda” will make sure that you are moving the company in the direction of your overall strategy. She will say no. She will point out your flaws. She isn’t automatically going to say yes. She demands facts, figures and solid reasoning behind your decisions. She doesn’t cloud the vision; she simply teases it out. Once you leave the conference room, she is completely on-board and never waivers about the decision made.
Sometimes I feel like I am the one running through the grocery store throwing things in the cart, and my “Brenda” is quietly putting the cans of tuna back because they just will not pair well with the chocolate pudding. You want your “Brenda” to keep you on track.
- Your accountability. Your “Brenda” will make you accountable. Not in a metrics-based accountability, but more of a moral accountability. Because she is so invested in the company, you won’t want to let her down. Just like you, she is staring at the ceiling when times are hard, but when times are good, she is beaming with enthusiasm right beside you. Her family takes the impact of the successes or the failures of the business just as much as yours does. She’s all in.
- Your biggest cheerleader. Her everyday attitude is infectious. She believes that your firm is the best at what it does. She believes that the employees in your company are the best at what they do. In every interaction with clients, partners and employees, she exudes confidence and is genuinely confused when prospects don’t buy from you.
- Your well-respected colleague. Your “Brenda” has the respect of your employees because she has integrity, honesty and she simply does things right. She didn’t obtain the respect of your team because of a mere title. Employees realize that she is in the trenches with them—that they can rely on her. She has their backs. I once pulled some employees together to deliver some unfortunate news. When I asked them if they had any questions, they only had one: “What does Brenda think?”
Let it go
My “Brenda” taught me how to delegate—not to simply assign tasks, but to truly release authority into her capable hands. There were two distinct times I remember talking to her in the conference room, likely micromanaging her. Afterward, we met and she told me that the envelope in her hand was her resignation. She wanted to make me understand that my job wasn’t to focus on managing tasks, but larger goals. I acquiesced, and the envelopes were no longer necessary.
If you aren’t willing to give your “Brenda” the authority and responsibility, then she will not want to continue working with you. This was probably my biggest lesson, and it continues to be reinforced today. You want your “Brenda” to stake her claim on her job, her role, and her turf. And with respect, she will.
So when is the best time to find your “Brenda”? Twenty years ago. When is the second best time? Today.
Late last year, our “Brenda” moved on from the position of president and COO to CFO. Before she switched positions, she found her “Brenda.” We call him Tom, our new president and COO.
 Gupta, S. (2012, May 12). How Employers can make us stop multitasking. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/05/how-employers-can-make-us-stop