Is it time to fire yourself as the President or CEO?
Being successful is not about how great you are; it’s about how great your team is, and how well you manage your team, and if your business has been stagnant for the last few years, it might be time to look in the mirror.
A number of years ago I was speaking with a client, we’ll call her “Maria”. Maria is an entrepreneur with a small business, but she had a big problem. No, she wasn’t struggling with her business because of competition from Amazon. Maria’s problem was herself. She was a bottleneck in her own company. She had a small staff but could produce for her clients only what she could do hands on. It wasn’t her staff’s fault, it was Maria’s.
Revenue had been stagnant for many years, with profits declining year over year. Maria felt stuck. She found that she was working more hours per week and barely keeping up. She told me in a conversation that her staff was competent, but not motivated. They weren’t taking courses and learning, at least not at the rate required for her company to compete and keep up with industry standards.
After we spoke for a while, we uncovered a few issues, most important of which was the fact that Maria was spending more time doing or redoing much of the work her staff should have been doing right in the first place. Mary had become an impairment to her own company’s success.
Although many variables are required to build and scale a business, one of the most important is the ability to scale a team of highly motivated and educated individuals who understand what’s expected of them.
Notice that all of the rowers are in harmony?
“If you could get all the people in the organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”—Patrick Lencioni
Being successful is not about how great you are; it’s about how great your team is.
Maria had never understood what it meant to be a leader. The bigger a company gets and as it passes certain milestones, whether it’s based on revenue or people, the more critical it is to understand that you will only be able to scale your company at the rate of your capacity as a leader. If you become that bottleneck and all of the work you deliver must pass through your desk first because you don’t trust your staff to produce quality work on their own, your business’s capacity to scale will be equally limited.
At any level of your company’s growth scale, it is important to understand this:
You need to hire and manage for where you want to be, not for where you and your business are today.
Something often happens in life or business that makes you pause and reflect on the situation. That happened to me in December 2013. We were in our 22nd year, and our company was growing, with revenues and profits increasing steadily every year.
Sounds great—just keep on trucking and continue to do what we were doing, right? Wrong!
Every business and every person eventually reaches a glass ceiling. They grow just so far and beyond that point, they need to pivot to reach the next level. It’s often difficult to tell when you’ve reached that ceiling. It’s not like there’s a little birdie up there telling you what to do next, or as if you have your life plan written in a book and you can just flip to the next chapter.
You need to be self-reflective enough to notice when it’s happening. Sometimes, something happens to make you realize it’s time for a change.
“Jake” and my aha moment
Early that December of 2013, “Jake”, one of my leading staff members resigned. I was devastated. I had been living under the illusion that everything was fine with him and the business. I thought he was happy with how things were going with his job and training, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I sat down with Jake and conducted an exit interview. Fortunately for me, he was honest and up front about his reasons for leaving.
Jake was leaving, he said, because the business lacked direction and he wanted more training. Things were always somewhat chaotic— and he felt the business was disorganized. It was missing an operations person to run it properly, he said. I was a sales leader, not an ops person, what did I know?
The look on my face must have been that of a fool, for my first thought was that Jake was crazy and didn’t know what he was talking about. He was leaving to work for one of our competitors, and I couldn’t accept that because the competitor’s owner had a reputation for being a difficult character running a mess even more disorganized than what mine apparently was.
After Jake left, however, I reflected on our conversation. I was in denial for a bit, but on further thought, I came to recognize that maybe he had a point. I committed to fixing the issues.
My style until then had been to run my company in an authoritative business style with no collaborative team-oriented approach. Our business style was one of each person for himself or herself, with a focus on individual contribution rather than being on a journey together and working as a team.
The more I reflected, the more it dawned on me that the staff didn’t have proper job descriptions. I had assumed, wrongly, that everyone would pitch in to do what needed to be done. Crucial tasks were going undone. They were amazing contributors, but no one was responsible for them, they had no leader
Jake was right
The staff had grown to approximately 30 people, yet my management style still hadn’t changed since I started the company 22 years earlier. The company’s structure was very flat. Essentially, everyone reported to me.
“People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” Until Jake left me, I never thought I’d be one of those managers.
I committed to making some changes to the business. I read books on leadership and business transformation, hoping to gain insight into my past mistakes. I hired a Director of Operations and promoted one of our salespeople to Director of Sales, both positions reporting directly to me. I hired a branding company and a consultant to help with creating a new vision for the company.
Starting in May 2014 and over the following three years, I not only transformed myself, I led the team toward a company transformation. The goal was to double the business and increase profits beyond what they’d ever been.
Before, I wasn’t a leader. I was just doing my thing and expecting everyone to follow along. We were a bunch of people along for the ride, but no one, me included, knew where we were going.
We weren’t rowing in the same direction.
Back then, before hiring the Director of Operations, I viewed business operations as more of a necessary evil, and not something I enjoyed or was passionate about. I viewed operations—including support, accounting, purchasing, and inventory—as just expenses.
To me, sales were the lifeblood of the business, and I thought that’s where I needed to spend my time. So, we expanded the sales team, often at the expense of the operations.
In 2013, I realized I had to fire myself. I removed myself from many of the day-to-day operations and hired someone to create that department and run it under my guidance. I hired an expert, someone skilled and experienced with operations
I lost what apparently had been a major part of my job, but quickly realized that I was looking forward to coming to work now that I had time to spend on things I actually enjoyed doing. My strengths and passions were in the sales and marketing area, so it wasn’t that difficult, once I knew we had the right person in place, to relinquish most of the control of operations to him.
There were many upsides to that decision:
● All aspects of the non-sales and marketing business ran smoothly.
● I was able to focus on what I enjoyed doing: sales and marketing.
● I found time to focus on creating a new company vision and goals and worked on
my leadership skills.
The lesson I learned, and the one I want to leave you with, is that you can’t do everything. At least not well. You need to look at where your interests are, and focus there.
Another lesson? Recognize when the status quo isn’t working. Yes, it took the reality of a key
team member leaving for me to come to that realization, but I knew I had to make some
There’s an expression:
“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
If your business isn’t as profitable as you would like, or has been stagnant for a few years,
there’s a reason, and it may be you. If you’re working 80 hours a week and feel like you’re on a treadmill with no time off, there’s a reason. As the leader of the organization, you need to find that reason and change direction.
Look around you at the things you’re doing today, the way you manage your team, the way you make decisions and the people you have working for you. As the leader of your company, you need to investigate carefully:
– Everything you do for your business, and
– Every process your business currently has, including how your firm quotes products, how you manage projects, send invoices, do collections, sell, provide customer service, your brand, your KPIs, everything.
The sooner you recognize that you are the reason your business isn’t growing, the sooner your business will grow.