Off The Leash

By Chuck Violand

May 7, 2018

As part of a presentation I give on the challenges a business owner experiences as their business grows, I use the expression “off the leash.” It’s one borrowed from a friend, and while I use it with respect to business, I’m sure many parents can relate.

When a parent has two kids, there’s no question about who’s in charge. It’s the parent, because wherever they go, the parent has ahold of each child with one of their hands. But, when the family grows to three children the game changes. There are no longer enough parental hands, so one of the kids is “off the leash.” This is when all your parenting skills get called into play, since now you must use organization, reasoning, discipline, and occasionally coercion to maintain order in lieu of physical control.
Business owners experience a similar situation as the number of people they employ grows and their company’s complexity increases. And, just like some parents, owners can experience this change at different times throughout their company’s growth.

For service businesses, the first and perhaps most noticeable time of change is when the business approaches $1M in annual revenue. This is a critical juncture in any business, but it’s especially critical in service businesses. It’s at this point that the business has exceeded the owner’s ability to control everything himself, because there’s just not enough of him to go around.

For example, if you’re short on cash to meet the week’s payroll, you’re no longer able to personally come up with enough extra jobs to meet it. If you have workers call off for the day, you can no longer cover their workload and continue to do your own. If your business is open extended hours, working 70-hour weeks to cover them all yourself just isn’t possible. There comes a time when you must rely on others to do some of the things you used to do, which can be an uncomfortable realization for many business founders.

This transition can teach an owner valuable lessons if he’s open to them. If not, he’s more than likely setting the stage for one of two outcomes: stalling the growth of the company or creating a miserable job for himself and, by extension, those around him.

Perhaps the most important lesson is learning to “let go.” While every business owner pays lip service to this notion, many struggle with actually doing it. As a result, their companies are limited by the physical capacity of the owner.

Letting go involves many of the soft skills that entrepreneurs are notorious for undervaluing; things like communication, openness, trust, and accountability.
Giving up control can be unsettling for some. But, as every leader of a growing business learns, it is only by doing so that they gain influence within their organization. And it is this influence that allows them to run a larger business.

There will be times in business when you’ll have people who seem to be off the leash. Not destructive or intentionally disruptive, but curious, energetic, and looking for ways to improve how things are done. As taxing as the situation may seem at the time, these are frequently the people who force you to grow and consider new ideas. By redefining these off-the-leash times as professional growth opportunities rather than irritations, you open yourself and your business to expanded possibilities.