Making the transition from being a business owner to being a business leader starts with a deeper understanding of ourselves and our ever-changing role within our company. I think Kevin Rollins, former CEO of Dell Corporation, summed this up well when he stated, “I used to think that my biggest contribution was in knowing what to do and driving execution, but I came to see that strong people want to be led, not driven.”
With this said, let’s start with a couple of the basic transitions that are necessary to make the progression from owner to leader.
From “I say, you do” to “What do you think?” As business owners it’s easy to fall into the “I say, you do” trap. Because of our title we have the privilege of telling our people what to do and having a reasonable expectation that they’ll get it done. As we become more and more accustomed to this pattern, we may start believing that we possess higher knowledge than our workers. Sometimes we’re so confident of this that we stop asking them for their opinions. This is a mistake, but it’s an easy one to correct.
As hard as this is for some owners to appreciate, our people don’t stop offering their opinions because they believe they’re not as smart as the boss. They stop offering them because they’ve learned that it can be politically dangerous to do so or they’ve been shut down when they have. In other words, it’s not safe or their opinions aren’t valued.
If we hire the right people, they will have opinions worth soliciting and listening to. We need to ask them and then not judge what they say, either outright or by adding our own input for how to make their suggestion better or by relating our own experience.
The next time, try asking people for their opinion and then simply thanking them.
From anger to understanding. One of the less flattering characteristics of many business owners is our anger. It doesn’t take much to set some of us off and sometimes we believe that owning the company entitles us to express this anger whenever the mood moves us. Or we feel that anything that gets in the way of our success is an example of the world conspiring against us. We shout, fume, pout, berate, slam doors, and a litany of other offensive ways to express our hurt or anger. Then we explain it away by saying it’s just who we are, expecting others to understand and accept it. But our ability (or inability) to control our emotions speaks volumes about our maturity as a leader.
In his Epistle, James wrote, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) This is great advice, and it was written two thousand years ago! Considering our current cultural climate, this is advice we could all use a second helping of today, and it holds especially true in business.
Fortunately, we don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to recognize that little is gained when we lose our temper, and the people we’re attempting to lead have every right to question our competence as a leader when we can’t control it.
Business owners who make the transition from anger to understanding have learned that anger rarely resolves problems and often exacerbates them. They’ve learned to listen to and gain an understanding of the perspectives of others. This requires patience and the desire to resolve conflicts through dialogue and understanding.