One of the biggest problems entrepreneurs have is separating themselves from their business. It’s not hard to see why. We’re taught that our personality and values are intrinsically linked to our brand, which makes it hard to step away. Problem is, a business isn’t set up to succeed if you need to be involved in everything all the time. If your business would crumble without your in-person leadership every day, there is something wrong with how you’re running it.
Now, I’m not saying you need to set up an organization that will continue to grow for decades while you disappear to a private island and never work another day. That would be a pipe dream. But assuming you’ll be able to devote all of your energy to the leadership of your business all the time is unsustainable. I know because I’ve tried.
Nobody has more skin in the game than an entrepreneur. Most of the time, that’s a great thing. It is what makes us so dedicated, allows to buck to the odds, and inspires us to prove the doubters wrong. However, when left unchecked, this level of connection can actually hurt you more than it helps.
Many people I speak with are unable to distinguish between themselves and their company; they think of both as one and the same. It’s such a pervasive syndrome that you can find guides online about creating healthy separation. Believe me, I’ve been there myself. I’m the founder and CEO of The Newsletter Pro, but I used to think I was The Newsletter Pro. It wasn’t healthy to think this way and led to many sleepless nights.
I learned this as my company grew. In the early days, I could have my hand in every pot. I could write articles for our clients, do customer service, and work on growing the company. Quickly, though, I had to figure out how to set up a company that could hum along in my absence. I can’t tell our clients that their newsletters will mail late because I’m at a trade show. If I did, they wouldn’t be clients for long. So I had to hire the right people and create systems that allowed the company to function without me. Honestly, I’m glad I learned this back when we only had a dozen team members. To do it with the staff size we have now would be a lot freakin’ harder.
Structuring your business to run without you also allows you step away when other pressing matters come up. Work-life balance is crucial; it makes you a better business owner. That being said, there are times when you have to put work on the back burner with no questions asked.
Last year, my son Kellen started experiencing serious, mysterious health problems. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a sick kid, but let me tell you, it puts the brakes on everything else in a hurry. My wife, Mariah, and I automatically made our son our first priority. There was nothing — not business, not a trip to the Super Bowl, not a chance to meet Tom Cruise — that could pull me away from finding out what was up with Kellen and finding a way to make him better.
With a situation that serious, you don’t even have a minute to think. You drop everything and focus on your family. I wasn’t thinking about our sales numbers or how many pieces we mailed; I was thinking about my son. Thankfully, Kellen’s doing just great today.
When I was ready to return to my CEO duties, I was relieved to discover the company had kept excelling in my absence. That’s a testament to my team and our systems, but it’s something I may never have learned without the impetus of a family emergency. I’m the type of guy who checks his business email on vacation, much to my wife’s chagrin. But I now know that if I do need or want to step away, my company won’t fall apart. That’s peace of mind most entrepreneurs don’t have.
The Power of Real Business Leadership
Eventually, your business will grow to the point that you have to let go a little. If not, you may be the issue. Some entrepreneurs are more interested in making themselves the center of everything than they are in creating a successful company. They want to be the owner, GM, head coach, and star player all at once.
The bottom line is that trying to wear every hat is a recipe for disaster. Your business should be created in your image, but it shouldn’t require your entire existence to function. I encourage everyone reading this to take 48 hours off. If the thought of doing that sends a shiver up your spine, it’s time to rethink your leadership style. Do it voluntarily before life forces you to.