It’s the great paradox: Small businesses with heavily involved owners perform worse than those in which the owner keeps a respectful distance. Theories abound as to why this is the case (like the ones touched on here) but maybe the most reasonable and universal explanation is because owners with an iron grip on their businesses prevent them and the teams within them from moving forward.
In the early days of a business, a strong owner presence is a non-negotiable. The small business owner is – among a multitude of other things – the architect, strategist, financial manager and decision maker who breathes life into a business idea and puts it on the map in the form of a revenue-generating entity.
But, much like the mama bear who follows her cubs all the way to their college dorms, the overly-invested owner stifles the growth and prosperity of the business when it reaches the point of requiring a team to steer it in the direction of the original vision.
One strength of an effective owner is the ability to proactively recognize when it is time expand the team. Once the team is in place, it then becomes the owner’s responsibility to hand over the reins of internal operations.
Bringing a general manager into the fold ensures the owner can maintain the outward-facing stance of strategist and visionary, allowing the GM to inherit accountability for the more inward-facing nuts-and-bolts operations and financial management functions of the business.
While it may be tempting for the owner to play double duty and try to fulfill both roles, there are three compelling reasons to resist this temptation.
Owners who fail at effectively balancing their personal and professional lives send the message, either intentionally or subliminally, that work is a burden that interferes with life rather than a boon that enriches it (more on that here).
It stands to reason that taking on too many roles in the business leads to greater stress, stress that seeps throughout the organization and trickles all the way to the bottom line. Owners who manage and model the balance reap the rewards of more engaged teams, lower employee turnover, higher profitability, greater mental clarity and better overall health.
Relying on the GM to take on some of the heavy lifting related to operations, sales and marketing, planning, staffing and decision making ensures the weight is more evenly distributed. It also frees up the owner’s time and results in a healthier internal culture and happier, more satisfied members who also value the balance.
Steve Jobs said it best: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do.” The effective owner builds the business with the intent to one day leave it in more capable hands.
When bringing a GM into the picture, this means proactively recruiting and mindfully hiring the best and the brightest, the creative, innovative mind who will take the business to untold heights and ensure its prosperity and longevity – then refusing to put limits on that individual’s potential and getting out of the way as much as possible.
It does not mean actively disengaging from the business, at least not at first. Instead, it means coaching and mentoring with the big picture in mind, a picture in which the GM is consistently traveling an upward path toward increasing responsibility and, potentially, ownership. This, in turn, clears the way for others to advance in the organization.
Every owner needs an airtight exit plan. Leaving the business, ideally while it is thriving, frees the owner to pursue new interests, investments and endeavors and to foster and encourage a new generation of leaders. For many owners, especially those who have invested significant time, energy and personal resources in growing the business, stepping away from the business can be a daunting prospect.
Involving the GM in the exit plan includes giving sufficient time and attention to ensuring an effective, seamless transfer of leadership that results in the least impact on the overall organization. Under the GM’s leadership, the business should be able to function and flourish independently of the owner’s input and involvement, but always with a respectful nod to the influence that originally cast the vision and charted the course.
It has been said management is doing things right, and leadership is doing the right things. The small business owner does the right thing by handing off critical responsibilities to a skilled general manager and focusing increased effort on the outward-facing strategic facets of the business. This act of trust exhibits leadership that paves the way for the business’ and the GM’s continued success, well beyond the owner’s departure.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Borrasso is a Success Coach with LandOpt, a business that works with independently-owned landscape contractors across the U.S., helping them increase profitability, cash flow and revenue. To learn more, visit www.landopt.com.