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Why Every Good Leader Has Learned To Let Go
Giving up any type of control in their business whatsoever is one of the most difficult things you could ask many entrepreneurs to do. Yet, to grow their businesses, and to grow themselves and their team members, it’s exactly what they have to do.
This is one of the most challenging issues we solve when entrepreneurs first come to Strategic Coach.
Gary Mottershead, a Strategic Coach client for over 25 years and one of our associate coaches for over 20, had been doing some thinking about entrepreneurs and their businesses. He was looking at his role in his own successful business — and what that role should be now and in the future.
The analogy he drew for himself clearly illustrated what his role had to be — and it was far, far from the obsessive-control end of the spectrum. It’s a very relatable analogy that’s worth sharing.
Taking care of business.
Gary told us, “It occurred to me one day that no one teaches you how to be an entrepreneur. Strategic Coach, in fact, is probably the closest I’ve come to learning about how to be a good leader and entrepreneur. I began to think about my business, which I’ve had now for about 17 years, and suddenly it struck me that having a business is like having children. I’m a father of two grown children, and no one gave my wife and me a blueprint for raising them either!”
In the beginning, like a baby, your business needs constant nurturing. It can’t survive on its own. So, like a parent and their child, it’s up to the entrepreneur who brought this fledgling into world to not only keep it alive, but to make sure it thrives. And this is where it can get tricky.
In charge, not in control.
If a business is to grow, it has to have its own life, just like children, who slowly but steadily have their own lives. With their parents’ modeling and support, they begin to have their own values, their own opinions, and their own words. As a parent, you slowly allow them a bit more freedom as they grow.
In an entrepreneurial business, this same process is happening with your team. You begin to see that as they learn more and more and you’re giving them a bit more freedom to be responsible, they’re not going to do things exactly the way you would because they have a different experience of life than you do. They’ve grown up in a different way.
The danger, and it’s a big danger, is that if we keep imposing our experience on them, we’re going to stifle them and their potential to grow, just as some parents can stifle their children.
Let it go.
“To have the opportunity to be a father, to have two great children, and to have a great business is fantastic,” Gary says. “I think of the business as I think about my children: It’s going to grow up, and it’s going to have its own life, which will also help me at the next stage of my entrepreneurial career. I’m not always going to be there.
“Someone else is going to run the company, and they’re going to run it differently than I would. Is that good or bad? I’d say it’s good because all of us have a time in life when we’re more useful than at others, and maybe we’re even more useful doing other things. Knowing your unique talents that create the most value for others allows you to move on and leave an opportunity for others.”
That’s the secret all good leaders know: Be in charge, but not in control. Let go. Here’s how:
“Failure is a great teacher.”
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- Know what you do well — and what you don’t do well. If you’re having fun, do more of what you’re good at. That means you’ll have to give up those things you’re not good at. Have confidence in the people you’ve hired to support you, and give them freedom. Teach them and allow them to learn.
- Don’t always be the savior. Avoid exposing them so much that they constantly go into failure mode, but enough to understand what it feels like to win and to lose, to make decisions that don’t work out. You’ve got to stand back and decide that you’re not going to step in. If they fail, talk about it and assess it afterward. Failure is a great teacher.
- Trust your gut. When you have that feeling that something isn’t working for you, that it doesn’t feel good, there’s a reason we have that instinct. You need to follow it.
Gary’s analogy that likens nurturing children to nurturing a business is a great way to not only think about your business today, but also its potential in the future.
“I don’t have grandchildren yet,” he says, “but following my analogy and looking at my business from that perspective, it looks pretty appealing! What does every grandparent say? That it’s so wonderful to be a grandparent because you can show up and look after the grandchildren, you can have fun with them, and then you can hand them back to the parents! Why not be the grandparent in your own business? If you’ve been the parent and ‘raised’ your team well, they can run it.
“Show up when you need to show up, do the things you’re really good at doing, and then leave and let the ‘parents’ you’ve brought in and groomed to take care of the business take over again. And have fun, because it will be fun, but be there when you can provide counsel and support, and be the helping hand when it’s necessary.”
He goes on to say, “I look at the people who work with me as my children in the broad sense of the word. I want them to succeed, and empowering them to succeed is the best way to do that. And guess what that’s meant for me? It makes my life an awful lot easier. I have a lot more freedom, a lot more flexibility, a lot more fun. And there’s also been a lot of opportunity — both financial opportunity and the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have even thought to do if I were spending all my time and energy trying to control it all myself. It’s a good life.”
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