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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


The Haircut Principle

Yesterday I blogged about the decisions leaders must make. They are either like the decision to get an earring or a tattoo. Tattoos are permanent and must be handled with great care and forethought. Fortunately, most decisions we make as leaders are a bit more like getting an earring. Although you may pierce your ear, you can change out the earring or not wear it. Often, we take far too long and give too much effort to “earring” decisions and not enough on the “tattoo” decisions.


photo credit: august allen via photo pin cc

Haircuts teach us another leadership principle. Haircuts are something that no matter how important or busy you are—you have to do them. Yourself. You can’t delegate them to your assistant. You can’t pass them off to a team. Haircuts are just one of those activities that you gotta do it yourself.  In the same way, leaders must remember, there are “haircuts” in their organization—priorities that only the leader can do. They may delegate most of the work to a team member, but leaders must know the things that they must do, and only they can do. 

In my situation, the Haircut Principle plays out in fewer and fewer instances each year. In other words, the more I grow as a leader, the better I am at selecting good people to serve with me and the better I am at delegating and developing them to take on work. In the beginning of my organization, Growing Leaders, I did almost everything. I had to—there was no one else around. As time marched on, I had to get used to passing off work I actually like to do, in order to do the things that only I could do, like it or not. Decisions are not always about what you enjoy, but what you and only you can do. They are haircuts.

Today, mine surround things like:

  1. Strategic planning for the future.
  2. Casting vision to my team.
  3. Working directly with Holly Moore, our COO.
  4. Signing books and writing thank you notes.
  5. Traveling and speaking to partner organizations.

I make these decisions by asking myself these questions:

  • Can one of my teammates do this at least 80% as well as I can?
  • Will the recipient of this decision be satisfied with someone else?
  • At the end of the week, will I regret not delegating this task?
  • Is this task sustainable for me to do it, or will I need to give it up soon?
  • Does this task fit into my strengths and my highest priorities this year?

How do you determine what your “haircut” actions must be?


  1. Jackie Brewton on August 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I SO needed to read this. This is a challenge for me so the questions will really help me in this area. Thanks for all you do!

    • Tim Elmore on August 28, 2012 at 10:53 am

      Thanks for reading and taking time to comment! Glad to hear that this post was helpful for you!

  2. Jason on November 2, 2020 at 6:01 am

    Thank you for sharing! For me, a good haircut is the first sign of a person’s neatness. In addition, now it is so easy and affordable to get a haircut for everyone, and here there are many ideas for haircuts. It is only necessary to show what you liked your Barber, and perhaps learn how to get a haircut at home

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The Haircut Principle