I magine you’ve worked hard to build your business and it’s paying off, but as it becomes more successful you realize you’re enjoying it less, maybe even loath what you’re doing. Sundays bring anxiety as you look ahead to Monday and the work week.
For a lot of owners, this isn’t in their imagination, it’s their reality. You used to love it, but the more successful you became, the less you enjoy it. What used to be easy and intrinsically motivating is now draining. The dream is becoming a nightmare.
Instead of doing the hands-on work you loved, you find yourself buried in managerial tasks that leave you feeling numb at best. When the company was small, it operated like a close-knit family with everyone pitching in.
Now, cashflow, employee issues and finding new customers are giving you headaches. You find yourself in the ironic position where all your hard work and success have landed you in a job that leaves you feeling empty, frustrated, and unfulfilled.
None of this is due to a failure on the part of the owner. It’s a failure to recognize the evolution of the business and the impact on the owner’s role and how to respond to it.
For many owners, their entrepreneurial venture originated from a technical role. Their expertise or knowledge was sought out and in the early days it was profitable and affirming.
The excitement of a growing business was energy for the long days, but too much of a good thing can be a problem and for many successful start-up managers, success becomes a problem.
Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth, describes this phenomenon. He says that having great technical skills doesn’t mean you’d know how to or enjoy running a business. I’d add to that, it also doesn’t mean you can remain successful as you grow.
Peter Drucker, the management guru of the ’50s and ’60s said “The person who does their job well, even very well, hasn’t earned a promotion, they’ve earned a raise.”
Promotions can move an individual from their strength and source of work satisfaction to a position of weakness and dissatisfaction. This is the case with the individual whose business grows quickly from a startup where their technical competency is needed and rewarded to the larger company that requires them to serve as the senior manager and leader of the business, a role they never aspired to or were trained for.
To avoid resenting success, owners should follow a few simple steps to anticipate and avoid the managerial pitfalls of growth.
1. Get in touch with how you’re really feeling. It’s not a failure to feel competent at some aspects of the business and not at others. It is a failure to think you can and should do everything. You’re not giving up on the company by admitting where you work well, and more importantly, where you don’t. Because you own the company doesn’t mean you have to be the senior day-to-day leader and it doesn’t mean you have to give up control of the business’s direction. You may not know yet how to solve the problem, but awareness of the situation and a goal to restructure your responsibilities to suit your strengths and preferences is a starting point.
2. Inventory your skillset. Make a list of what brings you enjoyment in the business and what doesn’t. This may seem obvious, but often owners are so caught up in running the business that they don’t stop long enough to consider their best fit.
Next, make a list of the tasks and skills you feel the business needs to succeed. The list of tasks you don’t want to do or aren’t qualified for is a good start.
Begin planning for how you might fill the gap between what you need and what you can do. Consider delegating some tasks to others already on staff. Perhaps you need to hire someone to lead the company for you. Prepare a job description with specific responsibilities for the new position. Consider whether it needs to be full-time at the start. You may be able to find an experienced leader who’d enjoy a part-time arrangement. Once you’ve identified the need, exploring options just takes some time.
3. Keep your options open. You’ve built a successful and growing business because that’s what you’re good at. Consider selling some or all of the business. A partner with complimenting skills and capital could be a good opportunity.
Getting out entirely might also be the opportunity you’ve been looking for to parlay the proceeds back into the new idea you’ve been thinking about. Serial entrepreneurs seldom go on to run mature businesses. They’re constantly reinventing themselves off past successes.
Unlike how you might feel, you’re not trapped in your position. The process of working through these simple steps can bring relief and rest.
Success means everyone in the business is positioned to leverage their highest potential. That goes for the owner as well.
Greg Gauthier is a partner with Foxwood Associates Inc