Why Your Hard Work Is Hurting Your Business

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Somewhere in the Bay of Napoli, 2010

Chances are you’re throwing yourself into your business 110%. That’s just what entrepreneurs and executives tend to do. But what if I told you that there is an easier way? Maybe even, a better way.

It’s a little ironic that I wasn’t around for one of my best business successes. And yet, it’s a big part of why I was successful when I was.

In 2010 I was sailing in a small boat off the coast of Italy, about 10 miles off the coast of Naples, with my wife and our two kids when I realized I hadn’t checked in with the office or reviewed the daily operations report. That trip happened to be one of my best business moves ever as an entrepreneur.

My wife and I have owned and run businesses since we got together. We were entrepreneurs and, apart from the family, it was a huge part of our life.

Most of you reading this know that entrepreneur or CEO usually means a kind of all-consuming job with the dream of a big payday someday. We take pride in being entrepreneurs and not having a boss, but we end up working harder and often making less than everyone else imagines. We get some say in the direction of things, but we don’t always make good use of it.

About 16 years before this sailing trip, when we were just getting married and imagining our lives, we agreed that there was a magic time when kids are old enough to appreciate and remember things but not too old that they won’t participate and engage in adventures. We thought this magical time was between the ages of 10 and 13, and we promised ourselves that we would take our family on grand adventures at that age. That time arrived for us in 2010, when we were deeply engaged in rebuilding our business after the global economic crisis of the prior year.  It was not ideal timing, but let’s face it, there’s never is an ideal time for an entrepreneur.

So, as I saw this time arrive, and remembering the promise we made, I began to prepare our business to work without us. That’s the one thing that too few of us do. And, that turns out to be one of my smartest moves as a business leader. For the whole year leading up to our trip I got the team and business working smoothly.

I got our people squared away and then focused on good execution habits. We tightened our strategy and we optimized cash. We needed to be profitable, growing, cash positive, and drama free in order for my family to leave for a whole month. Over the year before our trip I kept asking one simple question to every breakdown?

“How will you handle this when we are gone for a whole month?”

I stopped solving problems and focused on building my team, our business culture, and our core processes.

So, when I realized I hadn’t checked on my team, and the daily report, a few days into our sailing trip, I opened my tablet, logged on, and downloaded the report. All was well back at the office.

We spent a fantastic and memorable month in Italy, sailing, touring, eating and drinking. And, the back home team posted a record month! All without our active participation.

If I can do it, you can too. The simple fact is, that contrary to popular belief, the CEO does not have to be the hardest, longest working person who never leaves the office. It’s noble, but it will leave you and your team less effective.

The CEO’s job is to assemble a team and lead.

No matter what you’re doing –whether it is running a Fortune 500 company or coaching your kid’s Little League team or managing a home renovation – there is always an easier way. It is time to get out of your own way, check your ego, and stop struggling by yourself to come up with the answers. The fact is, no matter how intelligent you are, no matter how educated you are, no matter how successful you are—when you tackle an issue alone you are, by definition, working with limited ideas. Get some fresh perspective by seeking the input of new advisors, influencers, team members. Get out of your own head, look up and around and ask “what if?”

Do you find it hard to delegate? Do you find that, as CEO, you need to be present for all of the decision making? That is not the most effective way to lead, not by a long shot.

What does that mean?

  1. Get the right people, in the right roles, doing the right things. Build an A-player culture and let go of C-players. Know that your C’s could be A’s, somewhere else.
  2. Focus on the few really great customers that will pay well and really love your business. Be great at a few things and be willing to suck at the rest.
  3. Create a culture and habits for mutual accountability, instead of carrying the load for everyone. That means focusing on a few things, and always knowing which one is your #1. Pick a few metrics that drive the right behavior and outcomes for your few goals and priorities. Have great meetings daily and weekly that get people on the same page, track progress on priorities, and keep purpose and values at the forefront.
  4. Get smart about cash flow and find ways to fund growth from internal sources and partners, before going to lenders and investors.  Get a coach to help you bring order to the chaos and scale up successfully.

The bottom line is that the best thing you can do for your business is get it ready to leave it.

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