Ownership to Leadership, Part VIII

As we conclude this series, it’s important to note that the journey of transitioning from business ownership to leadership is not one that must be made in order to be successful. Nor do we need to abandon all the characteristics of being a business owner in order to succeed as a business leader. After all, many of the behaviors that are common in business ownership are crucial to a company’s success.

Harold Geneen, former president of the ITT Corporation, once commented, “In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.”

In many ways I think Geneen’s comment speaks to the transition from being a business owner to being a leader and it happens on two levels. First, as we transition to a business leadership role, not only does our business perform better financially, but it is much more fun to lead. Secondly, our people find it more rewarding to work in a business that is led rather than just run. The lessons they will learn and the experiences they will have in this type of business are invaluable and can be taken with them throughout their careers. And while many may not appreciate this in the moment, they’ll come to appreciate it over time.

Making the transition from being merely a business owner to also being a business leader is a journey of learning and growing that frequently takes years to accomplish, especially for those owners who learn the lessons on the fly in “the school of business” rather than in business school.

Too often there are casualties along the journey. Collateral damage to relationships and to people caused by inexperience, lack of discipline, and the arrogance of ownership that frequently accompanies business owners, new or experienced.

At their core businesses are just socially constructed organizations designed to produce outputs and to provide for the people who own and run them. One of these outputs is the lessons the people who own and run them are supposed to learn—life lessons as well as business lessons.

Business owners are notorious for measuring their success by how well they’re doing compared to other owners. This comparison drives some to work harder at achieving the success they want, but it also drives some crazy with anxiety, feeling they’re not good enough or that they’re not measuring up to their peers or competitors. When this is the case, they start looking for fixes (or culprits) in the usual places: competitors, employment markets, economies, systems. And while these may play a role in our success, they’re rarely the underlying cause. Too often owners overlook the most important one—the one that’s staring back at us in the mirror.

As is often the case when our company isn’t performing the way we want it to, the first place we should begin looking is to ask ourselves what role we’re playing; what we’re not doing that we should be or what we’re continuing to do that we should stop.

That’s the beauty of this whole owner-to-leader transition: it’s all within our own control. Now doesn’t that just sound like a business owner?! 

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