You are an expert, Awesome!…..but
If you are running a small business or planning to start one, odds are you are an expert in something. Congratulations! I like working with experts. But what exactly are you expert in? If you own a plumbing business, I bet you are an incredible plumber. If you started an app business, I bet you are an awesome programmer. If you build websites for your clients, I bet you can run circles around someone else in writing HTML code (or whatever the latest tool is). That is why you are doing what you are doing and decided to start your own business doing it.
In fact, you may be THE expert in your field, and that can be a critical success factor for a business. But notice I used the words “can be”, not “is”. Being an expert in a particular field, whether it be marketing, operations, a particular product, service or science just isn’t enough. For all the congratulations you receive for being the expert, the odds are that you are missing one critical skill in being a successful entrepreneur. Expertise in leadership.
Don’t get me wrong, please don’t stop reading. I get it, you are juggling a billion things and life is going up and down the business rollercoasters every day/hour/minute. You are working 70+ hours per week to make sure everything moves forward. I was you for many years. But in the vast majority of cases I run across what that means is that you are an awesome manager. In fact, it may be an indication that you truly lack the leadership skills necessary to drive long term success. You may also be a leader, but if you are not an expert in leadership, your business is lacking a crtiical success factor.
This can be a tough lesson for someone, but I believe it is at the heart of why the vast majority of small businesses fail. Leadership means doing the easy things very well, so well that you have time to reflect, strategize and plan on a regular basis. In fact, that should be your goal and job. Now I understand that when you are first starting out, getting things done is the most critical thing. As you start to implement and grow, getting sales becomes the number one goal. You soon learn that cashflow is something you have to watch every day. Fighting fires becomes your daily challenge, and for many of us the thing we truly enjoy. You are driven by making sure things go as perfectly as possible.
But while you define what “perfect” means, what really drives what “perfect” should mean? My guess is you can not possibly know the real answer to that without research and reflection. Have you had time for either lately? A leader builds structure based around a plan that has been well vetted to ensure strategic long-term success. A leader is prepared to hand off tasks to others, not doing so “trusting them”, but trusting the process the leader has helped establish to ensure the plan is being adhered to, measured and adjusted as required. A leader teaches those around them the things that are most important to strategic success, gives them the tools to implement strategy successfully, and measures their movement to ensure success (note, I did not say progress, as that implies movement forward which is not always the case).
Are you doing that? Do you have structure? Do you have a plan that you are measuring yourself against? Financial and Strategic? Do you know what your key performance indicators are? They surely are not revenues alone, nor income. Are you measuring them regularly? Getting reports that measure reality against plan? Are you having strategic meetings reviewing the data and adjusting plans accordingly?
If you cannot say yes to all of the questions above, and more, then you are probably not an expert leader. I suggest that the number one thing that drives long term success, the one thing that makes a small company grow to be GE or Apple, is an expert leader. If you don’t have the ability to become an expert leader, your first assignment is to recognize the short coming and find someone to help. That can be in the form of a CEO if you can afford one. However, leadership is not rocket science. Being an expert in plumbing, or operations or dentistry is much more technical in nature If you want to develop the skills yourself, something that can be done, the best help can be a mentor.
Mitchell Bolnick – The Excel Consulting Group