Tough Call: The bottleneck named Bob


Your company’s founder and owner refuses to delegate, which has stopped your company’s growth dead in its tracks. What would you do?

The way your company got its start two decades ago makes for a great story. The founder, Bob Bottleneck, found himself unemployed when the lumberyard he worked for landed on the wrong side of a lawsuit and closed its doors. He applied for jobs with other companies, but when he failed to land a new job, Bob realized he was going to have to create his own opportunity. So, he picked up the pieces from his former employer and opened Bottleneck Lumber Company. Several coworkers from the out-of-business company, including you, saw potential for the new business and climbed aboard the fledgling firm.

The growth was slow but steady, thanks to a genuine appreciation for each customer, and a refusal to compromise on service or products. As your small team built a reputation for helping making builders’ live easier, your family of customers grew. Today, Bottleneck Lumber is a leader in your market, and has an actual waiting list of builders wanting to buy from you. While this fact is a source of pride…it’s also a source of frustration for you and your colleagues who believe that with a few operational changes, Bottleneck Lumber could effectively serve many of the builders on the waiting list, without compromising quality.

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The bottleneck, as you may have guessed, is Bob. “We’re successful today because we do right by people, and we don’t cut corners on the way we do things,” he explains. “Once we do that, we’ll be just like our competitors. And I’m not going to let that happen.”

Bob is absolutely right. Growth by compromising on service and quality is not a smart long-term strategy. But the fact is that Bob insists on continuing to do tasks himself that could easily—and truly should be—delegated to others in your company. Bob maintains all of the vendor relationships and handles all of the buying. Though your company has a state-of-the-art ERP system, Bob’s insistence on serving as IT director means you’re barely tapping into the software’s capabilities.

Bob’s refusal to delegate, and the bottleneck that it creates, seriously hampers your operations and has effectively eliminated the potential for growth. Every now and then, when the case for change is overwhelming and irrefutable, Bob will grudgingly agree to delegate a task. But that happens so rarely, you and your colleagues are beginning to wonder if being stuck is Bottleneck Lumber’s destiny…and if it’s time to look for a company that wants to grow. What would you do?


  • ACCEPT IT. Bottleneck Lumber is Bob’s company, to run as he pleases. If your pay is fair and you enjoy the work, then stop waiting for something that’s likely never going to happen.
  • DO THE MATH. Identify a couple of tasks Bob could easily delegate that would have a significant impact on your sales or profits. Once he sees the numbers, he’ll be open to change.
  • SHOW & SELL. Just do something that he’d normally do and let him see that the world didn’t fall apart. Sometimes asking forgiveness works better—and faster—than asking permission.
  • START LOOKING. If working for a growing company is a priority for you, you’re at the wrong place. Time to start looking for a company where you won’t feel stuck.

What would you do?



If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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