By Guy Rigby, Head of Entrepreneurs at Smith & Williamson
In their book, Growing Your Business: A Handbook for Ambitious Owner Managers, Gerard Burke, Liz Clarke, Paul Barrow and David Molian describe the owner-manager as developing across specific roles over time. These roles include ‘artisan’, ‘hero’, ‘meddler’ and ‘strategist’.
They put forward the proposition that the majority of owner-managers start businesses in areas and disciplines in which they have a degree of expertise or skill. “A plumber who plumbs, an accountant who accounts, or a solicitor who solicits is an artisan,” explains Gerard Burke.
As they generate sales and customers, the next phase of their development involves recruiting or subcontracting to help them deliver their increasing workload. This can often be one of the busiest points in the journey. As the individual with the most skill in the core area of the business, but also the boss, the owner-manager thus evolves into the ‘hero’. Not only are they still working in the business and servicing customers, but they are also getting the business in and getting the invoices out, while simultaneously managing and training their staff.
As a consequence of this pivotal (but hopefully temporary) role, a huge part of the early-stage owner-manager’s time is spent fighting fires. Everyone comes to them as the main point of contact – customers, staff and suppliers. They are the hub and the hero of the business, the person that the entire business revolves around and depends upon. This is self-perpetuating. The more problems they solve for others, the more likely they are to retain their role as chief firefighter.
Unfortunately, this period of development can be self-limiting and will often prevent the business from growing. The owner-manager is typically too busy to focus on growth, with his hands tied to turning the daily handle.
So what’s the way forward? Put simply, the way to break through this frustrating glass ceiling is to begin to build infrastructure, recruiting additional management to take on some or even most of the responsibilities that were once the domain of the owner-manager. In practice, however, human nature and an all-too-common reluctance to let go can make this fundamental behavioural shift particularly difficult.
Breaking through the barrier of owner-dependency can take the entrepreneur through a transition from ‘hero’ to ‘strategist’, empowering the team and enabling the business to reach prosperous new heights. However, it can also lead to the ambitious entrepreneur unsettling the business by seeking new and disruptive levels of heroism (e.g. the introduction of new business ideas or diversification) or assuming an unwanted role; that of the ‘meddler’. Either way, the business can be held back and its growth stunted.
Unwarranted interference is dangerous. Meddling undermines rather than builds confidence, it stifles skills rather than cultivating them and it demoralises rather than motivates.
Owner-managers often feel that nobody can deliver in the way that they can and yet, in order to become good leaders themselves, they must recognise the value in helping others. They need to take a long-term view about the personal development of their team and empower them at every level. Great leaders spot potential and unlock it. They allow other people to prove their worth, progressively ‘passing the ball’ and generally starting by enabling others to take over non mission-critical tasks before delegating full responsibilities.
So remember that meddling has an adverse and unwelcome effect on the business. Faced with constant criticism and micro-management, the management team will give up or quit and the owner-manager will revert back to being the ‘hero’ who limits the business growth. Continuing to run day-to-day operations at a detailed level, fighting fires and/or meddling simply doesn’t work in the long-term.
For advice on the transition from entrepreneur to leader contact Guy Rigby on 020 7131 8213, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By necessity this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Article correct at time of writing.
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