I met a business leader recently who was telling me about the challenges he was having with getting people in his organization to step up and take responsibility. He felt like he was ready to turn more of his operation over to others in the company so he could stop working 70 or 80 hours a week. He went on to say that the problem was, no one in his company shared his passion and commitment to the success of the business and he didn’t yet trust them to run it the way he would.
One of the most difficult transitions I’ve watched leaders make is the transition from operation to oversight. In many cases the leader has not built the foundation necessary to make the transition even though they believe they are ready. In other cases they have created such a narrow view of what success looks like that no one other than them can accomplish it. In essence, they have come to define success as “doing it my way”.
Let’s take a look at the foundation needed to make this kind of transition. This particular business owner felt like no one would care as much about his business as he did. He’s absolutely correct. They have to feel, at least to some degree, that it’s their business before they will have the same level of commitment to it. That doesn’t mean they need to own part of the business, although that goes a long way. But it does mean that they have to feel empowered to make decisions, make changes, take risks and try new things without the owner swooping in and changing everything back to the way he or she wants it.
Ownership is about much more than a financial stake; it’s also about an emotional stake. In many cases leaders tell others that they are responsible for the business, or a business function, only to have the leader’s actions tell a completely different story as they continue to ultimately make every decision.
The other key to a strong foundation for this kind of transition is that there is a progression toward it, not an abrupt shift. Leaders can’t treat someone as worker, with their only responsibility being execution of the leader’s decisions, for years and then one day tell them that they need to step up and be a leader. Everyone in the organization has to be consistently developed to accomplish more and to become capable of more.
When people in your business have been identified as having the potential to lead it, they need to be given more responsibility over time, not have it heaped on them all at once because the owner is tired of doing it. It takes time to build that emotional stake in the business and it only happens when a person feels that they have had a hand in creating what exists.
That means that no matter the size of the business you have to have a talent game plan. I’m consistently surprised at the notion that talent management is only for really big companies. It’s actually even more important for smaller businesses because they have a smaller talent pool to work with and less margin for error as they choose future leaders.
The View of Success
When it comes to making the transition, the second component that is essential for success is for the owner or current leader to expand their view of success. There are many paths to the same destination. As long as everyone agrees on the destination, the owner has to allow others to choose their own path without taking up the role of back seat driver.
That doesn’t mean that the new leader wont make some mistakes and wrong turns, they will. But the owner has to allow that to happen. The owner has to help the new leader learn from the poor decisions and only step in when help is requested or they see the new leader headed for a cliff rather than a ditch. In some ways it’s like having a teenager who’s learning to drive, at some point, you have to get out of the car. I’ve seen leaders who were able to let go be amazed by the abilities, the creativity, and the success of a new leader who they have truly empowered.
If you want to help others step up and run your business get them ready, and then get out of the way. When they feel like it’s their business too, and they have the power to change it, then, and only then, will they find their path to success.