You’re energetic. You’re focused. You start off with a fabulous idea that you are absolutely certain you can take you to places of amazing success. It’s not just you who thinks that your business concept is a great one. Nearly everyone you talk to offers their support for your bold move. Some of them even envy your chutzpah. You embody the stuff dreams are made of. You are proud to call yourself an entrepreneur.
You know your business inside and out because you’ve had your hand in every decision and every move from the get go. Essentially you have become your business!
But wait! What happened? Suddenly, you’ve got more business than you can handle on your own. You’ll have to bring in new people, new systems, new processes. Making that shift can be daunting if not completely debilitating.
This growth phenomenon is a very common challenge shared by entrepreneurs. We have seen this process time and time again. An entrepreneur’s business starts to grow, and then he or she wakes up one morning and decides to close the business doors. Over the last decade, I have noticed that most businesses don’t fail because they go bankrupt, but rather because the owners decided that the amount of effort they must put into their businesses is simply not worth it relative to the payoff they are currently receiving. When it all boils down, this credo holds true: Learn to work smarter, not harder. First, here’s the typical cycle: The business grows, and the owner pulls back because he or she is faced with more decisions. More decisions mean more fear and indecision. More fear and indecision mean less dialogue because people shut down when they’re afraid. Weakened dialogue means that business is becoming less visible and well known in the marketplace. The less that business and its principles are expressed, the more fear the entrepreneur feels, because he or she is sensing the downward spiral. It’s a vicious circle, and suddenly people start saying “What happened to John? Is he still around, or did his business fall off the face of the earth?” If this scenario sounds familiar, you may be asking “What do I do now?” The down and dirty answer is this: You shift your thinking from being an entrepreneur to being a leader! You may have begun as an entrepreneur. To grow and thrive, however, you must become the leader of your company and not just in word but in deed. Take responsibility for deciding what you want your business to look like, and start taking the bold steps you need to take to make things happen! Follow these five principles, and your actions will speak volumes for you.
1) Vulnerability: This may sound like a touchy feely word, but it’s really quite practical. First, identify the weaker threads of your leadership and/or your company. Recognize any weak spots or sinkholes in your foundation. Second, address specifically-with your team, your Board, your coach or mentor-how you’re going to work on those issues to shore them up. Be specific. Many leaders are afraid to discuss their shortcomings for fear of appearing incompetent. The truth is that vulnerability engenders trust, which engenders camaraderie, which engenders growth! People respect honesty because it creates a level playing field where they know who’s in what position – what the strategy of the game is. Ironically, addressing your own vulnerability will make you less vulnerable in the marketplace because you’ll inspire the loyalty of your team.
2) 50/50 Likeability: With a new business, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing whatever it takes to attract the greatest amount of business, being everything to every person you meet. You want to make everyone happy, regardless of whether or not their request falls outside of your business principles, core values or mission. One piece of advice Stop this insanity! Instead, work to create a leadership style that demands a reaction from people; they’ll either love you or they just won’t like you, and that’s okay. Think of leaders like Abraham Lincoln or Elizabeth I. They served and lead amidst inconceivable controversy and left some of the most amazing marks on humanity. Think of an Apple vs. Microsoft computer. Each has its own function and reaches a unique market. Allow your customers, your clients, your team-the people whose lives you touch-to experience a legitimate emotional reaction to your business. They’ll remember you and they’ll return because they know what you stand for. As you develop 50/50 Likeability, you will be attracting people who are perfectly suited for your business, and when people are perfectly suited for your business, you will do your best work, which results in very happy customers.
3) Find the gold in toxic feedback: How often do you get negative feedback about your business? Whether that nasty-gram of an email or that verbal tirade came from someone on your team or from one of your customers, look at it closely. It may be exaggerated, but there’s most likely a nugget of truth in there. Realize first that it’s just feedback; you have a choice as to what to do with it. For starters: Don’t take the feedback personally. Step back from the feedback, boil down the issue, address it, and use it to help you grow as a leader. If someone has had a negative reaction to your business, look closely at what you have done to contribute to the problem. Chances are very good that this feedback will be the key to unlocking your next business opportunity. Last but not least, thank the person for the insight! Shift your perspective and realize that they’ve given you a fresh perspective for examining your business and your style as a leader.
4) Delegate: Yes, it’s the “D” word. Most entrepreneurs have spent so much time in total autonomy mode that allowing themselves to delegate is a monumental task. I highly recommend a simple three step process for delegation.
a) Clearly articulate your expectations, but don’t be glued to an exact vision of the outcome. Leave some wiggle room for people to bring their own energy into the process so that the outcome is stronger.
b) Communicate in spades the process you want to see. Be specific about the who, what, when, why and how of the task you are delegating. People respect and respond well to boundaries, so don’t be afraid to spell things out in detail.
c) Provide feedback and make adjustments. Respectfully interact with your team and employees as you move toward completion of the task at hand. Let them know exactly what they are doing well and what types of improvements you want to see, and above all, give your employees permission to fail. If you are afraid to delegate, because you are afraid people will fail, chances are very good that your team and your business will never grow into its full potential. The synergy created in delegation should be greater than you. Let people exceed your expectations.
5) Agility: Say the word agile, and you probably think of a gymnast. Instead, think of yourself and your business. Learn to bend not break. You can grow in many more exciting directions when you have the courage to bend and stretch beyond your comfort zone. The beauty of it is, you’ll inspire your team to do so right along with you! And the more you’re willing and able to find out what’s new and different in the world on a daily basis-be it technology, information or even something as seemingly simple as expanding your team or seeing their skills in a different light-the more your agility will develop. Soon, you’ll be doing cartwheels around the competition! The proof is in the pudding. These principles can be instrumental in your own evolution from entrepreneur to leader. When that shift happens, hang on! Your company can then take the amazing journey from successful to significant!