Courtney Spence on How to Effectively Delegate Responsibliity

In Chapter 11 of 19 in her 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit executive Courtney Spence answers "How Are You Learning to More Effectively Hand Off Responsibility?"  As an organization founder, after years feeling she knew best, Spence learns to trust her team with roles and tasks she previously held.  She realizes she is not the best person for many roles and turns her attention toward supporting those that best perform in those roles.  Courtney Spence returns to CYF for her Year 3 interview.  As Founder and Executive Director, Spence leads non-profit Students of the World to empower college students to use film, photography, and journalism to tell stories of global issues and the organizations working to address them.  Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: How are you learning to more effectively hand off responsibility?

Courtney Spence: I’m learning a lot about handing off responsibility. I think that as a founder, you know, there’s founder syndrome, and there’s tons of articles and books written about it, but I do think that for many years it was – I felt that I always knew what was best from a big level to a very micro, small level. And what has been so powerful for me to see in the last few months is getting the right people on the right seat and the right place. They will make decisions and they will come up with ideas and solutions faster, better, smarter, more creatively than you ever could.

Now, they’re not gonna go necessarily run the organization now, I mean I’m still leading it and providing the leadership and the vision and, you know, the blood, sweat and tears of it. But I recognize that at some point that role will not be the role that I’m most effective at for the organization, just as I am now not the most effective person to do recruiting for our students necessarily, I’m not the most effective person in coming up with the curriculum and the programming for our students as they participate, we have people in our organization who are way smarter about that stuff than I ever would be. And it’s really exciting when you start to see as you hand off responsibility to others, see things happen in a way that you never dreamed it could. And I think that’s a very encouraging thing.

I needed to see that before I could really let go. At the same time, you also have to recognize that mistakes will happen and some things will slip through cracks but – I make mistakes all the time and things slip through the cracks for me all the time, and it’s not a matter of well, if I’d only been a part of that, this wouldn’t have happened. Those situations do arise but I think in general, when you have the team in place that you trust, handing over responsibility is absolutely essential, and you have to do it joyfully, willing-fully, and with great purpose. And that’s what we’re trying to do.