Job description for business owners: Lead, lead, lead!

Waiting for a haircut. via blfarris

Waiting for a haircut. via blfarris

I have a son who just turned 4 years old. Every day I get to watch him figure out something new — zippers, scissors, somersaults. He is learning all the time, always discovering something new.

But that also means he gets frustrated a lot. There are things he hasn’t learned how to do and things he hasn’t mastered yet. We tell him it’s OK and that he’ll learn, but he still gets frustrated.

Watching my son reminds me of what it’s like to be a business owner. When you own a business, you know how to run things, especially when you have been at it for a long time. But that’s the thing — if you want your business to grow, you have to let other people run things while you lead the business, as this job description for a business owner points out.

Transitioning from being a doer to being a leader means learning new skills, which can be frustrating. Since you know how to do so many things in your business, it’s easy to retreat into doing just the things you are good at so you don’t have to feel so frustrated and incompetent. (Who wants to feel frustrated and incompetent, right?) For instance, let’s say you are particularly good at sales but you don’t have time to do it. So you hire a salesperson, and this person doesn’t do things exactly the way you would do them yet you don’t teach him otherwise, so he quits. And you think, “It’s just easier to do things myself!” But that’s not in your job description.

Leadership is a skill that you need to learn if you are going to grow your business. You can hire folks with great technical skills, even better than yours (if you pay enough), but no one else can lead. Leading is the business owner’s job.

If you continue to retreat back into the role that “got you there”, the talent you are bringing in behind you will slack off. They will let you do their work. Unfortunately, this can make you feel like it’s OK to go back. “Those slackers, they didn’t really want this work, I can run circles around them…” And you can … but not if you want to grow.

Growing requires you to do something different, to give up the things that got you here (those skills might not be as sharp as they once were anyway) and start leading.

What’s leading? It’s trusting the technical doing to your team, and taking on the hard job of being the Chief Executive Officer of your business. The business owner’s job is not to get work done, but to make it possible for other people to get their work done. It means making sure the organization has access to the talent and resources they need. It means finding work that will keep the team challenged and growing. It means saying “no” to challenges that aren’t in the company’s sweet spot, and finding more effective ways of attracting challenges that are better suited.

This requires a whole new way of evaluating your professional achievement and looking at success in a different way. If everything goes well, your team is going to get major kudos! If things go poorly, everyone will likely blame you! It means that it’s harder to look back on a day’s work and say, “Look, I did that…” But you are building something that can keep working even if you aren’t!

Making this shift requires courage, determination, flexibility and a willingness to be incompetent again — there’s no other way to learn.

How did you make the transition from being a “doer” to a “leader”? Or are you still in the process? What was hard about it?


  1. do you think if I shared this with my team, they would understand better? “It’s not you, it’s me.” wink

    • I think it would be great to share it with them — but only if you are want them to *help* you make the changes! Sharing it with them might give them permission to say, “Becka, you’re doing that thing again. Go back to being CEO please!”

      If that’s what you want — fire away!

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