By Chuck Violand

January 4, 2016

Recently, I was talking with a business owner who was struggling with what he should be focused on in his company. He’d worked hard and built a successful business with dozens of employees, healthy profits and cash flow, and a good reputation within his industry. But now, several decades into the business, he was feeling a bit lost.

Like the founder of every small business, over the years he had personally performed almost every job in the company. Those exhausting but rewarding early years, when he WAS the business, were now long past. Instead, he was looking ahead to the not-so-distant future when he would exit the business, and was confused about his role in a company that was no longer dependent on him to be the one unlocking the door every morning.

He was struggling with a challenge most business owners face as they grow their companies. We wonder, “What should I be doing now to support the business? What role should I be playing, and how should I be using my time on the job?”

Part of the answer depends on where you are in the lifecycle of your business. I’ve written in the past about “The Five Steps of Managing a Small Business,” which explain what you should be doing in each phase of your business. At Step 1, “Managing Myself,” you are doing it all, from cleaning, to accounting, to marketing. At this step there’s no question about what you should be doing; you’re too busy doing it!

As the business grows and prospers, you move to Step 2, “Managing Others.” This is when you make the shift from doing the work yourself to getting it done through other people, such as technicians, while you continue to handle the business functions. At Step 3, “Managing Managers,” you move away from the operational and physical aspects of the business and get more involved in developing your leadership skills and managing the details of the business. At Step 4, “Managing Different Functions,” you turn your attention toward gaining a deeper understanding of accounting, sales, operations, and human resources, and how they work together to grow a profitable business. Finally, at Step 5, “Managing My Entire Business,” you are the big picture guy. You rely on others to manage the details while you provide overall leadership and guidance.

On an intellectual level this seems like a pretty simple concept to grasp, but on a practical level it can get complicated due to the way we’ve been conditioned to think about the ownership role within our companies. We think that, if our company is successful, we should take off to a beach and return once in a while to “check in on things,” or sell it for an unrealistic sum of money and retire to that beach. These notions are based on an outdated Industrial Age model that assumes we don’t enjoy our work, or that once our companies reach a certain point in their growth we no longer have anything to contribute.

In the next three installments of this series, I will talk about Charting the Course, Hiring the Right People, and Tracking Performance; fundamental responsibilities that, as the CEO, you never outgrow as your company grows and evolves.