There can be a point in a business when the current business owner has to determine if he/she is the best person to lead a growth stage. This may seem like a strange thing as most business owners are the founder and have put so much time, energy and emotion into the business already. However it is an important question to consider so the business is not poised for failure. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “what got you here won’t get you there.”
How do you know if you still have the fire in the belly to grow your business? Is it time to hire someone to be CEO instead of you? How do you know if you should fire yourself before your business grows again?
Case study: Larry’s dilemma
Larry (not his real name) has led his small business for over 10 years. During that time, he has transformed his company from just himself to one that employs a number of people. For a while there was not a pressing need to do much more than put some systems in place and do some minimal business development.
But about a year ago, Larry and his team came up with a product that could catapult his company into a much more prominent position in his industry. This also came with the realisation that Larry and his employees had to learn to adjust to a much more rapid pace and take a look at other product ideas that they had been kicking around for years.
Suddenly it was quite clear that Larry had to improve his leadership, communication, organisational and time management skills. Now, with one product successful launched and another one in development, it seems like Larry is the right man to be CEO of his business. But one question nags him, “should I fire myself before the business grows again?”
Should the founder step down or carry on?
This is messy stuff, particularly if your company is incorporated. There is the board to work with, current staff and the risk of hiring an outsider. On top of this, what happens to the founder? Some founders are not suited for expanding a business beyond its current stage of growth. This distinction matters and it can be hard to say to yourself that you don’t have the skills or the passion for what comes next.
Some signs that you should step down:
- Lack of interest, energy or passion
- Not willing to train your staff, delegate tasks or remove yourself from day-to-day operations
- The business plan is in your head rather written out in detail with your team
- Unclear vision as to what the business will look like or do
- Reluctance to raise prices or charge market value for your products/services
- Unwillingness to seek a bank loan, alternate source of funding or pitch to investors
While this is far from an exhaustive list, these are some of the reasons a company does not move to the next stage of growth. While it may be uncomfortable to recognise when you are doing any of the above, it is necessary to admit them to yourself.
How do you ask yourself if it is time to fire yourself before your business grows again?
Larry is in the midst of this process. He has asked staff has given him feedback about his leadership style and performance. He has also reached out to peers he respects to learn how they made the transition when their business grew. To deepen his exploration, he has begun asking himself these questions:
- What am I reluctant to do and why?
- How would the company perform if I stepped down?
- Is this business about me or something else?
- Am I willing to learn about my blind spots, areas of weaknesses and strengths?
- What changes could I make that would benefit the business the most?
- What changes could I make that would benefit me the most?
The way that you answer these questions will let you know if you are the right person to be lead your business through the next growth stage. This is not not the easiest process nor the most comfortable but leaders must be truth-tellers, even to themselves.
Is it really time to fire yourself before your business grows again?
Larry may not know all the answers to his questions yet but he is doing something very smart. He is taking a look at what skills and strengths he brings to the business. In the beginning of this post, I listed some of the signs that a small business owner should step down from the position as CEO (or managing director). Before you even create the business plan for the growth phase, it is important to note where you are in your career development. This prepares the company to stand pat if you are not fully invested in growth. Or it may prepare the company for a change in leadership.
What could you learn from this process before you grow your business?
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