Transitions aren’t limited to the world of business. Human beings are constantly transitioning—from being children to adults, from attending school to entering the workforce, from not knowing how to do something to being able to teach others. The list goes on, as there is continual movement from one “thing” to another.
From operating to coaching to guiding. Out of preference or necessity most business owners are operators of their companies in the early years. Either they feel they can’t find anyone who does the job as well as they think they do it or they can’t yet afford to pay anyone else, so they do it all themselves. In spite of the risks inherent in being a “solopreneur” an overwhelming majority, in businesses of all sizes, choose to continue doing so throughout their careers.
The owners who aspire to build larger companies learn that they must progress from operating the company (working IN the business) to managing and coaching the people who operate the company (working ON the business). Then, as the business continues to grow and mature, they realize there’s yet one more step: guiding the company and serving as a mentor to the people who are leading it. In many ways this is the fulfillment of working ON the business. Making this important transition is not simply a change in mindset, it also requires a change in activities.
Coaching starts by recognizing that we don’t have all the answers and that others might be more skilled at some tasks than we are. It involves asking questions rather than simply providing answers. It also involves bringing out the best in other people so we end up with more and better outcomes than we might have accomplished on our own.
Guiding a company means going beyond doing something well. It means doing the right things well or not doing them at all. It involves modeling a culture that others want to be part of. It means being able to articulate a vision and a purpose that other people will find meaning in helping us to accomplish.
The best guides can look out over the horizon and identify destinations worth pursuing. This requires thinking strategically, not operationally. They are able to bring meaning and purpose to the most unsavory or mundane tasks that every business has.
Transitioning from owning a business to leading one isn’t just about learning new skills to become a more effective leader, it’s also about discharging some of our outdated owner behaviors to make room for our leadership ones.
In family businesses this progression takes on an added level of complexity and importance, especially when the company is being transferred from one generation of family members to the next.
Too often business owners disregard critical development and mentoring steps in the misguided belief that simply sharing the same gene pool anoints a successor with the acumen to run the business. This is rarely the case.
Mentoring younger workers and guiding an organization require time to think and to reflect on the long-term outcomes that the leader wants to achieve. And as it is with so many other endeavors in life, the view at the end is well worth the journey.