When I first started out on my own, I was an independent business and sales consultant for energy services companies. After leaving my corporate sales management position in Honeywell, I swore that I’d never hire employees. Fast-forward 4-years, I hired my first employee… then my second and quickly grew to an office of five employees when a business consultant came knocking on my door.
I’ll never forget his words. He said, “Jeff, you’ve got a business, that you’re treating like a part-time job.”
He was right. For about five years, I had sold projects to complete renovations for facilities to make them more energy efficient. At first, I was the engineer, project manager, salesman, bookkeeper, and anything else that needed to be done. As I would sell more projects and got more overwhelmed, I would contract out to other professionals. Eventually, I started hiring employees.
Since I had become independent five years earlier, I had a limiting belief that employees and growth meant more work and less freedom. This belief limited me from dreaming and growing my business. It also ensured that I would always be “busy” and “needed” in my company.
The Day I Decided to Grow
That day with the business consultant was the day I decided to take my business seriously and create a growth plan.
It wasn’t easy. Up until that point, I had done all the selling and felt that I was the only one who could get my message right. My first new hire on my path to growing would be a salesperson.
It was a disaster. But I didn’t give up. I hired additional salespeople who did work out. I continued to hire others as Ennovate Corporation continued to grow. Within a few years, I was managing 10-people and felt like that’s as big as Ennovate could get without promoting some of my employees to manager.
The Management Dilemma
I needed help managing my growing company. I would need to promote someone in my staff to take on a leadership role. I knew this day would come, but I didn’t know how to make the transition. You see. I had two major problems. First, I wasn’t convinced my current staff was ready to manage other people. Secondly, the people I wanted to promote to manager were doing such an awesome job. If I promoted them to manager, I would lose one of my best workers and would sentence them to the penalty of being an administrator. I was convinced that our productivity would drop with such a move.
Instead of promoting my own staff, I attempted to hire older and more experienced people from outside of our company to take on the role of manager. Unfortunately, they didn’t understand the way we did things in our company and were unable to lead teams of more experienced employees. In most cases, my employees were educating and training these new managers and not the other way around.
Ennovate’s Happy Ending
Eventually, Ennovate Corporation grew to 30 employees. We had five teams with five managers running each team.
The folks managing my teams were indeed the most talented members within each team.
Over a longer time-period than I’d like to admit, I learned that I could train and mentor my talented staff into the role of manager/leader without losing their talent and work effort in the process.
I eventually sold Ennovate to Ameresco and we merged our two regional groups of employees together. Shortly after, the sale of Ennovate, I resigned my position to start out on my journey of business coaching.
Lessons for Other Business Owners
As I coached a variety of other small business owners, I quickly recognized the same limiting beliefs in them that I had myself a decade earlier. It didn’t matter if they were a restaurant owner, a small manufacturer, or an engineering firm. These business owners were struggling with growth.
The limiting beliefs of growth go something like this:
The problem with a limiting belief is that there’s some event that you can point to in your history to validate the belief. The reality is that while you’ve had bad experiences in the past, those bad experiences are one-time events that are not indicative of the TRUTH.
The more painful the experience, the truer we think our fake lesson is.
I don’t know you. But, if you’re a small business owner, chances are that you have achieved some level of success and you’re hanging on for dear life hoping that the economy doesn’t crash and you can find enough customers to stay afloat. You spend half your time wanting to leave your business and the other half trying to survive. In those moments when you experience some level of success, you may think about growing, but why? You’re happy where you are.
What can you do?
The first step is to “dream bigger”. Don’t think about your next step… think about a vision 10-years from today. What will your business look like at 10X its current size? Who will be running your business so that you don’t have to do all the work?
Rely on Others
Once you’ve put together your 10X plan at 10-Years, plot out how you can get there. I guarantee that to get to your vision, you’ll need to hire good people. In a business sense those people will fill and grow into the roles that you’ve outlined in your dream business.
While those people seem to fill roles in your business, they are also living, breathing contributors to the value of your business. Likewise, you’re a living, breathing contributor to their growth.
As a coach and business owner I’ve heard and lived the horror stories of bad employees. In truth, I’ve had more great employees than bad employees. It’s those great employees who will add so much value to your business and relieve you from the overwhelming responsibility if you let them.
Become a Growth Leader
Now that you have a plan and understand it will take others to help you realize your dream, you need to develop your people.
All people want to make progress in some area of their life. It’s your job as a leader to align their desire for growth with your desire to grow your company.
If you believe that your business is stagnant or will be the same forever and ever, your employees will come to work and do their time while they live their lives in some other way.
If you create a growth vision and your employees see how they can advance in your business, they will bring an energy with them to your business that will cause growth.
I was privileged to benefit from amazing leadership training from a large corporation before I started my small business. Most small business owners and employees of small business owners don’t get this same privilege.
If you find yourself in charge of people and have never had formal leadership or management training, you should enroll in leadership training that gives you the tools to lead people.
When you train your people on how to lead, you gain two benefits: 1) your people empathize with you as a leader and the challenges you face leading them; and 2) you’re preparing your people to take on the responsibilities to run your company.
I found five specific challenges that continued to come up in coaching sessions with business owners: 1) Value of Leadership; 2) Team Formation; 3) Personality Conflicts; 4) Empowerment; and 5) Motivation.
Value of Leadership
Business owners and employees both don’t fully understand why leaders exist in the first place. An employee wants to get paid more and so they think they must manage more people to get the increase in pay they seek. Small business owners are reluctant to promote employees because they don’t understand how they will get added value from pushing an employee out of a productive role into an administrative management role. Trust me, there’s plenty of value to gain with great leaders and managers, if you know where to look.
When teams change or form, they must go through a four-step process. In this process, there is unfamiliarity at first, factions, then a certain amount of fighting that takes place. When new leaders don’t expect this formation process, they often give up. Business owners give up on their new leaders and new leaders give up on their teams. When you understand that each one of these steps are normal, you know how you can accelerate each step so that you can quickly arrive at the fourth step of your high-performance team much more quickly.
It’s our human nature to be attracted to people who are like us. We tend to negatively judge those who are unlike us. Unfortunately, this natural tendency will kill you as a leader or even a good employee. Diversity is truly a good thing. Diversity of personalities and understanding how to leverage your opposite personality types is pure magic. When leaders are others can see appreciate and leverage strengths of each personality type, company growth is inevitable.
All people have hopes and dreams. When you cancel someone’s dreams in pursuit of your dream, your dream will become a nightmare. In order to get the most you’re your people, they must be in control of their destiny. This means giving them the power to grow, create, innovate, and add value within the construct of your business. Understanding when to direct and when to allow free creation is not so easy… but it is imperative.
Motivation seems illusive to many. We can quickly recognize people with a good or bad attitude. We tend to think that people are a certain way. They are either always negative, positive, or somewhere in between. The fact is that leaders can affect attitude, motivation, and energy levels. How they act, react and the words they use
The leadership topics that I just described had come up so many times when coaching small business owners, that I decided to create training that directly teach each one of these principles to existing and new managers. This training program is called Leadership Matters.
I don’t plan to sell this program in this blog post. If you can get these same leadership principles in other leadership training programs, please do.
If you’d like to learn more about Leadership Matters, you can read more about this specific training program by following this link: Learn More About Leadership Matters.
It is truly your ticket to realizing the business of your dreams and reducing the amount of time and effort you spend working in your business.
I write a blog post and record a podcast weekly. I write/talk on business advice, small business turn around stories, political interaction with business, business mindset and spiritual intersection with business matters. If you want to get email reminders when I post something new, please sign up.