You walk in to your office, what is the first thing you do?
I work with entrepreneurs every single day, and for a lot of them, the morning routine looks exactly the same — they enter their offices with their phones glued to their ears.
It is eery how the “walking into office” behavior is the same for so many different entrepreneurs I know. Irrespective of the business they are in, or the stage their businesses are at, they all walk into their offices the exact same way. Putting out a fire. Either it is an unhappy customer or it is someone from their team giving an update on the task they discussed the night before — it is always a firefight. And that is how businesses get tangled up.
You are on the call getting updates on the fires you are trying to put out, you get off the call and get into a quick meeting with the stakeholder who can essentially help put out the fire, and then the actual process of putting out the fire begins — with you being in the thick of things as and when it happens. Before you know it, half the day has passed you by, and you are left with just half the time to get actual work done. And as the week comes to a close, you are left wondering why is it that you weren’t able to get half the things done that you had put on your plate for the week. You think about it for a while, and then as the new week begins, it is more or less the same story playing on repeat. Over and over again!
One of the main reasons why you find yourself in the middle of this mess is hidden in that italicized section above — “with you being in the thick of things”. Instead of proactively driving the business forward, you are allowing yourself to be pulled back reacting to the events of the day and the week before. And that happens because you have built yourself a business where you need to be involved in everything, at every step of the process. And that is exactly what a leader is not supposed to do.
I recently had a health crisis and was out of commission for 2 weeks. This wasn’t the first time it has happened that I have needed to be out of work for whatsoever reason. The businesses have still moved forward — business as usual. My teams would know that I would not be available until further notice, and the business has never suffered because of my absence. Why? Because I spend a lot of time in building teams that don’t need me. Whether it is staying on top of the new product development, or handling the customers, or the operational processes, they know what the business needs to take care of at any stage of time, and they have never been left with training wheels on for long enough for them to feel the constant need of a supervisor who will tell them what they need to do and how.
They know they have my confidence and a lot of wriggle room to work with. As a result, most of the business decisions are made with zero involvement from my side.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Because that is the only way a business will grow.
Each business needs leaders. As ‘the’ leader of the business, your primary responsibility is to create leaders of tiny businesses within the organization — leaders who can not just do the jobs you expect them to, but those who can work towards the broader objectives and goals your business is working towards. These will be the people who can even step up and fill in your shoes when the time comes. You may be the general leading the army, and these will be your lieutenants leading their battalions, but they need to be well capable of knowing how to win individual wars, if not the battles.
HOW DO YOU INCULCATE THIS BEHAVIOR IN YOUR ORGANIZATION?
It all begins with trust.
You create leaders not by training them like mindless drones who do what you want them to do, at a time you expect them to do it, you create leaders by empowering them. You empower your leaders by entrusting them with the responsibility of growing the business in a direction it needs to. You empower them by accepting that different people work differently, and just because someone’s method of working is different from yours doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. You empower them by giving them enough room to operate freely, as they would if they were the ones running the business and not you. You empower them by giving them the sense that it is okay to make a few mistakes every now and then — especially early on. And more than anything else, you empower them by reminding them every step of the way that you have got their backs.
The buck does stop with you, but the growth of your business starts with them. The more freely, and as an effective leader they operate, the more cumulative value they will add to the business. Make that a habit. Make a habit of hiring really smart people, and cultivating them into business leaders of tomorrow!
BUT IF THEY WILL DO YOUR JOB, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
The fear of relinquishing control is the second most common reason why we micromanage our potential business leaders — people who would be probably 100x more productive if they were to be given room to operate freely. The most common reason? The fear that if you were to seize control of everything, it will all wither and turn to dust. A close third is the sad feeling of feeling unwanted in a business you started from scratch. You want to stay relevant in your business. The moment you realize your business can operate with or without you is the moment when a lot of us would start hyperventilating and start feeling lost. After all, how can you no longer be needed in an organization you have given your sweat and blood to?
I am here to tell you that this fear is unfounded.
Yes, you may come to realize that you are no longer needed in the day to day operations of your business. But I am here to tell you that it is not a moment to fear, but a moment to both look forward to and cherish. When you are no longer needed in the processes you see in your company, it is time to put new processes in place. That is when you branch out, expand, grow, diversify. After all, you already set up a new business from scratch, and if the business is now operating like a piece of well-oiled machinery, why not make bold bets again and do things that would propel the next phase of your company’s growth and evolutionary explosive growth trajectory.
WHAT DOES MY TEAM REALLY DO?
There are a few different moving parts of my growth agency business. We do some marketing work ourselves to build credibility and establish ourselves as a group of people who know their shit. That is the objective. To establish ourselves as experts who can help your business. And the team does that beautifully. I don’t need to tell them of everything they need to do in order to work towards that goal. We had a few early meetings so that it could be ensured the team understands why it matters, and how does it help the business. We also brainstormed of some ways in which we could work towards that objective. That’s it! Since then, the team has been working towards that goal. And the early meetings we had? Now they have those as a part of the internal process so that everyone in the team understands why what they do matters, and what are the right approaches to go about it. I have been shunned out of the whole process. They make it a point to infuse the basic principles in each other — into every new member of the team. Do I still have meetings with them? Yes, I do. Are those meetings needed? No! I just like to pick their brains on what else they think we could be doing, and give inputs wherever I think they can benefit from my two cents.
The same operating methodology is what you would see all across the board. Whether it is the account management team, new business team, or client servicing, they all are aligned to one simple objective — the growth of the business and they come up with what they need to do as a group, and as individuals to do their bit towards reaching that broader objective.
So what do I do? I explore new ways in which we could be growing as a business. Could we be adding a new line of business altogether? Do we need to include some new products and dashboards in our dev-pipeline to help our delivery team or improve the experience we impart to the businesses we work with? Do we need to increase the personnel budget we are allocating to a particular team in the organization? Should we be branching out in a new geography or a business vertical altogether, and if we do, what’s the macro-level plan for that, what would the timelines look like, what would be the benchmarks for success in this endeavor, what targets should we be looking at?
We are still figuring out how we need to operate, but I know I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again every single day, and neither should the leaders in my team. They need to focus on making themselves redundant in their current processes and start managing things from the sidelines, eliminating the need to be in the thick of things as much as possible.
Do we fall? Yes we do. When we do, one of us falls and the rest of us pick him up. But when we don’t, you gotta look at the collective growth we drive. That’s a sight to behold!