When you’re working IN your business, you’re too bogged down in the day-to-day minutia of your organization. In Episode #64 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, Chris and Perry explain the importance of working ON your business and how you can shift your focus to the big picture to improve your organization.
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Read Transcript Below:
Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach, and I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. As a reminder, if you would like to learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership or perhaps bring one of us in for a 5 Levels private workshop for your organization, we would love to do that! Please leave a comment or question for Perry and me on the John Maxwell site. We would love to hear from you.
Today’s topic is titled: “Are You Working IN Your Business or ON Your Business?” This is a great question that every leader needs to be asking themselves. This is something we try to do ourselves but probably don’t always do a great job at. This topic comes up a lot in conversations with leaders, especially in the coaching context about. We find that leaders can get really heads-down working in their business, which means executing the daily tasks of running the business, that they forget they need to work on their business.
Many of our listeners will recognize this concept from the classic Michael Gerber book, The E-Myth Revisited (E meaning entrepreneurial). In the book, Gerber writes that most small businesses fail because the leaders are really good technicians, but they’re not really good at managing or having those entrepreneurial qualities. The “technician” lives in the present and is all about doing the job. I think that’s how I got promoted. I was really good at sales and got promoted to Sales Manager because I was a really good technician. But the “entrepreneur” is a visionary, living in the future and moving from idea to idea.
Without setting up the necessary processes and systems, a business is not going to succeed in reality, and that’s why working in your business is important. Most of us have progressed into leadership positions because we were individual contributors. It’s second-nature for us to want to stay in that mode and produce and be hands-on. We tout Level 3 of the 5 Levels of Leadership: producing an end result builds a kind of leadership credibility. This is all true, because an important part of leadership is helping our team with the day-to-day, but today’s topic is about the importance of taking some time to set sights on the future.
It begs the question of how do we begin to carve out time as leaders to think about our business in the big picture instead of constantly being in it. A great quote from Gandhi is, “A man is the product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.” So, what we think about on a daily or weekly basis, is what our business will become. If we don’t think in the big picture, our business won’t grow and we won’t innovate.
What I’m finding is that it’s so easy to be a technician. The common mistake we make is that we do a lot of the work ourselves instead of teaching and delegating. Don’t we have this control tendency? We’ve got to break that in order to guarantee the longevity of your business, because your business cannot depend on completely on you. You have to think about how the business will work without you. How are you opening doors and developing plans to allow your team to be more successful and have strategies that align with the future? Michael Gerber asks, “Are you building a business or doing the business?”
How can you make your team so successful that if you pulled yourself out, it would continue without you. One question that Michael Gerber poses in his book is, “How can you get your business to work without you, freeing you to do other things?” When you’re running a business, how do you free yourself? You’ve got to be disciplined.
I’ll share a quick story. When I was on the road with John and Mark Cole, our CEO, John and Mark were talking, and I noticed John continued to press Mark to acknowledge that there were a couple things in the organization that only he can do. John was letting him know that was his responsibility. John was delegating and letting others take responsbility. As a leader, ask yourself the question, “Who is it on my team who can take on this responsibility?” Who can take that responsbility off your plate so that you don’t get bogged down in the minutia of the day-to-day of running the enterprise?
There are things that only you can do for your organization, your department, or your business, but there are things that others can take off your hands and do just as well (or better) as you can. I was listening to John talk to Mark about that. It goes back to building a strong leadership bench and succession plan. As leaders, we have to train, equip, and continuously develop our team so that they can one day carry the load without you. We can’t just expect them to do have all the necessary skills; we’ve got to make sure we’ve trained them and given them opportunities to learna nd grow. If we can build an organization that has a succession plan for every level, then we’re doing the right thing.
To Work ON Your Business, You Need Feedback on Your Leadership.
We’re excited to announce our new and improved Organizational Effectiveness Survey (OES). The OES gathers feedback from employees to give leaders and management the knowledge and action plans needed to develop a more effective and productive work environment. Our new version measures 4 areas of your business: Leadership, People, Strategy, and Performance.
What can you do to help yout people become more independent? We’ve talked several times on the podcast about autonomy, trusting your people to do their work. I’ve had the privilege of working with John for years, and he’s talked for years and year about recognizing that, if a team member can do something 85% as well as you can, you should give it to them and let them run with it. This helps your team develop a common language around your leadership and your organizaiton’s culture. Of course, set some boundaries and guardrails, but if they can only do it 85% as well as you can right now, let them do it, because soon they’ll be doing it better than you.
You have to set your expectations around the standard of performance in order for your team to be on the same page. We talked about this in a previous podcast, the difference between standards of performance and expectations. I’ll tell a quick story. I’ve been working for John for 21 plus years. When I first started working, I’ll never forget this, John used to say, “Hey, if you work yourself out of a job, I’ll find another job for you.” I was like “No, I’m not doing that. I got a family to feed, I got responsibilities.” I just didn’t understand what he was talking about. I understand now, and John’s proven what he said to be true over and over again.
You might have asked yourself, “What can I do to be working ON my business?” John’s biggest tip: You need to be a change agent. This is difficult for a lot of leaders. They say, “Why do we need to change? We’re just trying to keep up with where we are now.” The answer: if there’s no need for change, there’s no need for a leader. Your job is to pull yourself back from the day-to-day work and let your team carry that load, so that you can be the change agent and think about where your organization is going next. As a leader, you have to continuously be looking for ways to improve your business. You have to envision where you’re going as a business and, to Perry’s point, when we say business, we’re talking about your team.
You have to be able to see further than they can see, and then you have to be able to communicate that vision effectively in order to mobilize the team to get there. You cannot see where the team is going unless you take time to step back and think. Challenge yourself to think about where you guys currently are as a business unit and how you can improve that.We live in a time where the future has never been more important to our businesses. John talks on how times now are faster than they’ve ever been and distances now are shorter than they’ve ever been. It got me thinking, when it comes to innovation and technology, everything inside your business is changing. I read this statistic that said it took the telephone and automobile industries over 50 years to reach 50 million consumers. It took Facebook only three years to reach 50 million people. That timeframe continues to shrink, doesn’t it?
This means we’ve got to take time to think ahead, or we’ll get left behind. Make the time in your schedule. Bill Gates of Microsoft takes a minimum of one week every year to completely check out of his day-to-day responsibilities and think about his business in the big picture. While you don’t have to jump to that extreme right away, maybe you can start with one hour a week, perhaps on a Friday morning before everyone gets into the office.
The sooner you stop fighting the present, the sooner you can get to work on figuring out the future. This is really just your reminder: while you’ve go to work in your business, you also need to work on your business. That’s your job as a leader.
As reminder, if you want to know more about the 5 Levels workshop, you can visit our website. You can also leave us a comment or a question we always love hearing from you. Also be sure to download our Learning Guide for this episode. We’re grateful that you’ve listened in today. This has been the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.