Unintended Consequences, Part I

By Chuck Violand

March 26, 2018

Many entrepreneurs struggle to transition from performing tasks to leading people. But once the goals the owner worked so hard to accomplish have been met and the company no longer requires the owner’s undivided attention, it’s a needed change.

Regardless of the age of the business or owner, effectively making this transition will have a defining impact on how successful the company will continue to be.

Here are some of the things we should, and should not, be doing with our time.

Stop being the Chief Fire Fighter.
Entrepreneurs are famous for our “fire fighter” dispositions. We love jumping into the middle of burning problems. Solving them is where we get our adrenaline rush; where we’re comfortable and derive our sense of purpose. Despite any complaints to the contrary, this is where we feel valued.

Once things calm down and we have time on our hands but no fires left to put out, we can feel a loss of purpose. Some of us respond by lighting matches to start more fires, stoking not only the flames, but our own sense of value.

There will always be fires, but as our business grows, our job should transition from fire fighter to fire chief. Our responsibility then is to determine how the fire started to prevent similar ones from happening in the future. It is also to lead our people as they become the fire fighters, rather than battling the flames ourselves.

If we never grow beyond our need to personally fight fires, then our company and our people will not continue to grow.

Focus on Opportunities. Focusing our efforts on ways to increase business is the job of every founder, and it starts the day our business launches. While this responsibility never goes away, it does change as the company grows and matures.

Opportunities for growth aren’t limited to finding more customers, diversifying business, or discovering ways to operate more profitably. While these tasks are important, the responsibility for some of them is delegated to others, allowing us, as the owner, to shift our focus.

Now is the time to devote more attention to enriching the culture that’s been established within the company. This isn’t accomplished by attending a workshop or by reading a few books or web articles on culture change. It’s accomplished through our daily actions; through the way we interact with our people and our customers. It happens when people see the standards of behavior that are expected within our company … and those that will not be tolerated.

For many owners, this is also an opportunity to focus more attention on what I refer to as the “them” phase of business. It’s no longer just about the owner (me), and it’s not only about building the team (we). This is when we consider the legacy of the company: its impact on and place within the community, and its impact on the lives of those within the company.

It’s only natural that founders who have spent their careers building a business, making decisions, and solving problems would struggle with what can feel like leading from behind. But, it’s the ones mastering this transition who end up coming out ahead.