Help, I’m Stuck!

Business owners, does this sound like you?

You started or purchased a business because you have a particular skill, aptitude or passion. Once into it, you find that you’ve really just acquired yourself a job handling day-to-day activities. You’re maintaining the website, you’re paying invoices, you’re dealing with customers, producing product; you’re doing it all. You find that there isn’t a hat rack in the world big enough to store all the hats you wear. You are working IN your business.

Sure, in the beginning, it’s reasonable to work IN your business. After all, you’re the only person you can rely on. Resources are limited. You can’t afford to pay someone to manage the day-to-day operations. Daily tasks soon take up the entire day.

After a period of time, you find that the business isn’t growing. “Why?,” you ask yourself. Nobody (meaning you) is working on creating new biz opportunities. Nobody (still meaning you) is performing the marketing plan that you created.

You realize that you need to un-tether yourself from some or all of the daily business tasks. Instead, you need to start focusing on strategic endeavors and make the business look more like what you had dreamed it would look like from the get-go. You want to be working ON the business. But where to start?

Here are the first two steps (it’s a continuous journey, not a destination).

1. Look at the team you have assembled. What, from the work you are currently doing, can you delegate to someone else? Are you a solopreneur or only have a couple part time team members? What can outsource?

2. Automate. What tasks can be automated? There are all sorts of software packages and apps that are tailor-made for relieving us of mundane-but-necessary daily tasks. Buy one or two of these to give you the freedom to do the job you SHOULD be doing.

I know…these solutions will cost money. BUT…don’t you believe in yourself enough to know that you will get an ROI on these investments? If you don’t believe, then who will?

Do these things and thrive.

Still not sure how to do this? Find a mentor to help you. I happen to know one.

Execute, Execute, Execute

A business coach that I hire once told me that I needed to spend less time in learning mode. He suggested (to put it lightly) that I needed to get out there and start DOING. I had the baseline knowledge to get started and I would fill in the gaps by screwing up along the way. Now this seemed to be a terribly uncomfortable way to go about it, but I had paid him for his advice so I complied and got into the game. Alas, he was right!

Fast forward to now…I have talked to numerous business owners that spend time on webinars, reading books and learning from every source possible. The are constantly learning to get ready to go do it one day.

My observation on this behavior is that many business owners are simply not good at execution. Planning? Check. Preparing? Check But it’s scary when we are not totally sure about what to do, so we just keep preparing-to-do. In many cases, the cautious attitude has worked, to a degree. They are still in business, aren’t they? They are, indeed. But are they thriving? Isn’t that why we started our businesses in the first place (that and a healthy lack of respect for authority, but that’s an article for another day)?

So strap on your gear and get after it. It’s GO TIME. Execute, Execute, Execute.

Reduce Stress in Your Business

As if our stress levels have not been impacted enough by Covid risks, stupid government shutdown decisions and overall market uncertainty, I find that businesses can cause undue stress within their own organizations. Stressed out leaders often lead to stressed out employees (and vice versa). Here are some ways by which we, as business leaders, can reduce overall organizational stress.

  1. It is critical for leaders to create very clear expectations for their team members. Nothing is more frustrating, for an employee, than working hard at doing their job (as they see it) only to find out that the company is disappointed in their performance. I’ve been guilty of this. I recently had an employee that was not doing what I wanted them to do. As I investigated the situation, it became clear that I did not set detailed enough expectations as part of their job description, process instructions or their training. That’s on me. Having corrected that situation, now if the employee does not perform, it’s on them (as long as I am giving consistent feedback to them).
  2. This leads us to the second way we can reduce stress levels: Ensure that we have efficient and effective feedback/communication loops. Our team members want to feel valued. And, if we are leading well, we want their feedback, too. More eyes, ears and brains on a particular task almost always delivers better results. Plus, it makes our team members feel like they are making a difference. This has been called elsewhere “creating a community.” Who doesn’t want that?
  3. One of the more challenging, yet worthwhile, tasks is to make sure we have the right people doing the right jobs. While it’s pretty much a given that our businesses will be more successful if we hire good people, making sure the job in which we place these good people is the right job for them is like turbo-charging their performance. Imagine a football team with a great quarterback that plays offensive tackle while the tackle plays QB. They are still great players but they are not being utilized optimally. The team is going to struggle. It’s the same in business. Get to know your team members so that you can put them in positions to be successful.
  4. Finally, build great systems in which your team members can excel. We can set clear expectations, and have great communication with them while having them in the perfect postions for their skillsets. However, if we don’t have systems and processes in place to ensure clarity and consistency of their results, we won’t be much better off than if we did none of these things. People need structure. Period. A lot of people will say that they thrive in an unstructured environment. These people, however, simply create their own structure within which to work. Not everyone can do that. It’s incumbent upon us, as leaders, to ensure that we have good processes and systems to help ensure our team’s success.

With these four situations addressed, stress will be down, business results will be up and leadershp burnout will be minimized.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the US, we have reached the point in the Covid-19 pandemic that more cities and states are issuing shelter-in-place orders every day. This is creating a substantial hardship on our nation’s small businesses. While there are government programs available now to provide aid (you can easily find these via Google), it still is going to be a while before we get back to normal. For now, we need to survive.

While we are busy surviving, we need to be thinking about not only recovering, but about what fundamental strategic and tactical changes we can make to our businesses to be stronger for this pain. We cannot simply go back to what we were. The economy will NOT be what it was prior to the pandemic. A recession will still be taking place for several months even as we climb out of it. What do we need to do?

Right now, conserve your cash. Take government programs, offer discounts, cut back hours and reduce expenses as needed. I will suggest that, if you cut hours or enact layoffs that you, as the owner, participate in a bigger way than your team. Lead by example.

Concurrently, research what your industry has looked like as recessions of the past have come and gone. Make needed adjustments. If you aren’t sure how to make the needed changes, get a mentor/coach. Use every resource you can get your hands on to restructure and re-tool. Be ready for whatever is next.

The changes won’t be the same for every industry. Some industries are counter-cyclical; they do better when the economy is down and consumers pull back spending (think fixing your car vs. buying new). Others will have an extended recovery timeframe. They will need to market hard, and get creative about products, services and delivery channels to stay “in the game” until the economy improves.

We cannot assume that what worked before will work now. Access every resource you can in order to lead your business back. Don’t be shy. Be bold. Your team and customers are counting on you.

In What Roles Do You Also Lead?

Over the course of time, I have read numerous books on leadership and have attended trainings, as well. Without fail, all of them talked about leadership at work. Perhaps that was due to purchasing bias on my part because I wanted to be the best leader I could be in my career.

Being in the midst of my 60th trip around the sun, I find myself being more reflective. Not so much to second guess my past, but to make sure I get the final chapters right. One of my very recent reflections has been centered on where, besides at work, have I been a leader and where have I been the best leader. There are two non-work parts of my life that called me to be a leader: my family and my church.

As for my church (churches, actually), I have held leadership roles since our very first church in Greenfield, WI back in 1985. I held various leadership roles in different functions. Over the years, the health of the areas under my leadership seemed to improve. Of course, it wasn’t so much what I did as it was what God did through me, so I really can’t take any credit. Still, with God’s ample assistance, I think I have led well in those rolls.

In my business career, I’ve had positive impacts on my employers and my businesses over the course of time. Stumbles were many, but I kept getting better and the businesses grew more profitable. I was blessed to have really good people with which to work (both as bosses and as co-workers) and we accomplished much. Hopefully, I had some level of influence upon those successes.

Upon a lot of reflection, the most important leadership opportunity that I have had was in my family. If I am honest, however, it’s in this role in which I think I’ve done my poorest job of leading. One could say that a family is the most complex and demanding of these three leadership roles. That could be true, but that really is no excuse. The fact of the matter is that it’s been the leadership role for which I was the least prepared…and the one that scared me the most.

We are all driven by something. That “thing” for me has often been the fear of failure. I don’t know what it is for me about leading my family that made me flinch, but I did. In business, I attacked and shored up my weaknesses. In church, I gave God my hands and my heart and let him use me. But at home….I just felt inadequate.

I don’t share this with you to pout. My main conclusion from this reflection mirrors advice that I give my coaching clients: NONE of us knows everything. I tell them to build on their strengths and hire to fill in for their weaknesses (either via employees or mentors). In my personal life, my loving and patient wife has filled in for all my holes as we raised our family. Our sons have turned into fine young men and I simply cannot describe how proud of them I am. She is that perfect example of surrounding ourselves with team mates that complete us. Of course, I didn’t hire her (I doubt she would have taken the job). Instead, God saw in her exactly what I needed and He put us together. Perhaps, he saw in me exactly what she needed, too. Together we led our family. We had each others’ back and we pressed onward. She is my greatest blessing. On this Valentines week, I celebrate her.

Who fills in your holes? Celebrate them!

Time For Some Adult Supervision

Last night, a client who is also a good friend and a brother in Christ messaged me. He asked, “Do you think there is any chance of civility in this country anymore?” Figuring he was referring to the SOTU dust-up I replied, “There is always a chance, but the 2 parties’ leaders need to show the way. Pelosi and Trump won’t get that done. Both are petulant children.”

Now, depending the side of the aisle on which you sit, you may not like that last statement. Well…the truth hurts and that statement is the truth. We have fallen into this mode of “if you don’t agree with me then I must hate you.” That is a massive fallacy. We don’t have to agree with everything someone believes, in order to extend brotherly/sisterly love to them. Jesus reminded us in the second part of the Great Commandment “…love your neighbor as yourself.”

In politics, in society and in business we are NEVER going to agree 100% with those around us. But to succeed in any endeavor, we must work together and that requires a little grace, a little mercy and a whole lotta love (to quote Led Zeppelin). As leaders, it is our duty to model that behavior and show the way. Let’s start today!!

Lonely at The Top

There are a lot of old sayings about leadership that allude to the lonesomeness of leading people. For example, “It’s lonely at the top.” Or, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Also, “Leaders are like eagles. They don’t flock together; you find them one at a time.” It’s ironic because leaders, by definition, have to have followers. In larger organizations, the leaders are surrounded by people yet can, and do, still feel alone.

While there is a tendency for all leaders to feel this way from time to time, it does NOT have to be a constant in a leader’s life. In my observations and personal leadership experience, one of the biggest mistakes we make as leaders is in assuming that we have to have all the answers. The reality is that this point of view is putting undue pressure on ourselves. NOBODY knows everything.

We all have holes, blind spots, weaknesses, whatever you want to call it. Yet, the people that surround us have brains too (yes, it’s true)!! We need to be better at inclusively tapping into those brains to improve our organizations. This releases the self-imposed pressure of “knowing-it-all” and….it lifts up our team and shows how much we value them. What a powerful innovation engine that creates!