From Owner to Leader

Question: I have owned my business for five years. We have grown from 3 employees to 30. I need to think and act more like a manager, not a worker. Any tips?

Answer: An insightful book titled Tribal Leadership defines the three stages of a business owner’s journey: (1) As a Technician. (2) Becoming a Manager. (3) Evolving into an Entrepreneur. You seem to be ready to move from the expert in your field and doing the work you love and have a great passion for to becoming a manager who organizes and leads. It is somewhat scary making this move since you know exactly what you are doing as a “technician,” but as a manager and leader, you are on fertile untested ground. Here are some thoughts that Liz Ryan shared on what managers do wrong. From what they do wrong you can convert to what you need to do to be doing it “right.”

They see their workers as part of “production,” not collaborators. They see them as the function in their work scenario that gets the work done. Make them collaborators in your customer service planning and your business growth strategy. They are on the front line and talk with customers more than you. Employ them in the process, and you’ll get more from them overall. Ask for their opinion or suggestions. When you make them collaborators, they will grow, and you will grow, too.

They just talk and don’t listen. Listen to your employees. When you make a statement regarding “the work” or a policy change that impacts them. Ask them, “How do you feel about this?” They might not like it or see another angle that you didn’t consider. So asking them before your policy change is cast in concrete gets them involved and gives them an opportunity to communicate to you. So listen to them.

They don’t get feedback on their leadership style. Take the time to ask your employees, how they feel about how they are managed. A one-on-one, once a year to get feedback on your management style will give your insight into how to maximize your human resources.

They focus on the goals and numbers, not the energy behind the numbers. They don’t ask, “What do we need to be talking about that we are not talking about?” Most employees won’t share with the boss their feelings and opinions without being asked. Take the time to ask. Ask them about what customers are saying about your product or service. Ask them about what they think you might do to increase your share of current customer business. Ask them what you need to be doing to increase WOM of your offerings to gain increased market share. You’ll be surprised how the numbers exceed, and the goals are achieved.

They focus on what is not working vs. celebrating what IS working. Too often the boss is focused on what is not working and berating their employees regarding their deficiencies rather than focusing on what is working and determining the source of the deficiency then making their corrections in a constructive manner. Great managers celebrate everything. New business, exceeding weekly sales goals, meeting renewal goals or the customer service employee of the week or month. Find something to celebrate every week. It makes your team feel their worth, and you’ll find they will extend themselves to greater lengths in the work they do.

They get tunnel vision. They forget the team MOJO and what it takes to keep the business moving forward. They get hung up on minutia. Take the time to manage the people. Manage their expectations and their feelings. When you do that the numbers work out. The objectives get accomplished. Clients get serviced beyond their expectation.

They keep employees in the dark. Some bosses feel the only thing that separates them from the worker bees is “knowledge.” Wrong. Some elements of your business are private and are not necessary for your team to know, but if you are open and share with them the realities of what you are facing, they just might help you come up with solutions that will correct the course of your business.

They forget the commitments made to their team. Commitment and loyalty are two ingredients that separate a well-functioning team from one that “shows up for work” and “can’t wait for the day to end.” If you make commitments to your team. Follow through on them. If the circumstances change and you for financial reasons, cannot fulfill the promise, let them know. When you do that their commitment and loyalty to you remains intact.

They ignore boundaries. Managers and leaders set boundaries. They don’t go out with the boys after work. They don’t spend leisure time with their employees. Those boundaries allow them to make the tough decisions. The boundaries allow them to lead and not be “one of the boys.”

They are short term thinkers, ignoring the longer term. As a manager, you are responsible for meeting your weekly, monthly, or quarterly financial goals to keep the business well- funded. But if you make decisions that focus on the short term, you are ignoring the impact on the longer term that may be terminal for a small business. When you can look out over the horizon to what will be and not just focus on what is, you have reached stage 3 in Tribal Leadership.

Entrepreneurial leadership.

They don’t own up to their own shortcomings. A manager needs to constantly be looking in the mirror and asking the question, “How am I doing?” They need to have a one-on-one with key employees and ask, “What can I be doing better?” Asking customers, “what can I do that I am not doing in managing my business to satisfy you better.”

Making the leap from technician to the manager is tough, but if you focus on the principles of thinking and acting strategically, not just tactically, you’ll get there.

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