Whatever drove or inspired you to become a business owner – maybe it was believing you could do a better job than your boss, or an opportunity looked you in the eye, or someone gave you a chance – it inevitably started with a sense of great excitement. You likely experienced the freedom to do things ‘your way’. After some hard yards, you then started to win.
This works well, so you keep going. You build your business. Then something happens that stops you from winning. At that point, in almost all cases, an owner will have run into the leadership crossroads:
- Succession (ie who is going to keep developing this business)
- Progression (ie wow the opportunities keep coming and maybe they’re bigger than I can deal with), or
- Crisis (ie the world has changed and I’m not sure what to do about it).
What’s happening with your business?
When this happens, you’re facing your first and most critical diagnosis – identifying what’s really happening with your business right now.
Do you have an issue with scaling up and helping your people understand what you want and who they need to be to support your next season of growth? Have you reached a point where you’ve run out of energy and need to find someone else who has the energy to see your vision live beyond you? Has your industry crashed into a change that you missed because your success led you to focus on what made you happy…not what made your business effective?
It all sounds pretty simple when listed off like that, but this can be a major challenge for leaders. When I’m working with owners, and we are at this point of diagnosis, I ask them to get back in touch with the powerful energy associated with starting in the first place. Most people start a business without a clue as to what really makes them successful. Yet, they are successful because they are engaged in a series of activities that makes them so. Trial and error is a great teacher and your intuition becomes your guide. As success builds, you might start to suffer from the halo effect and stop doing the things that made you successful as those around you begin to believe that your success is your proof. A classic example is the owner that builds great relationships early on that generate work. The owner gets bogged down in delivery and doesn’t have time for relationship building. This leads to work drying up. They get back out into the relationship space and…work starts coming back again. That leader didn’t understand the foundation to their success – and didn’t replace themselves as their business grew.
How will you lead the next season of change?
I’ve often described my work as being that of a forest shaper who works with tree huggers. Given my passion for sustainability, I have a deep respect for tree huggers – people who are amazing at what they do. They work very closely with the details of their business, know exactly how it works, and have an intuitive understanding of what’s needed. This offers great value but when things change in the broader market, through technology disruption or a maturing market, they are often too close to recognise how the world is changing around them. My job is to hold out for them the big picture and help them understand what’s changed.
For the leader who identifies they have reached a turning point, they need to step back, at least a little, to understand the root cause of the challenge. Once you have diagnosed where you really are…the next step is to decide how you want to be helped (or not). I find people typically take one of three approaches:
- They manage the change themselves
- They engage passive advisors (eg accountants, lawyers etc)
- They involve an active advisor
It’s easy for me to advocate for the third approach, because that’s what I am to the business leaders I work with. Yet, history proves the untold value of having an active advisor who has been there before and is able to have the conversations that can’t be had with anyone else…a forest shaper. With the exception of businesses already in crisis, I find that leaders who tackle these turning points themselves, or by involving passive advisors, or even their mates, are often heading toward personal or business crisis by the time they realise they need deeper help.
Many leaders simply love their business and are not sure of what to do when they reach the crossroads of uncertainty. They often obsess, and regularly beat themselves up for not knowing what to do next. They may even have made some progress on their own. Service providers may have helped them. The truth, however, is that they need someone with perspective to help them reset the vision and regain the passion, and to support them in making the simple decisions that will change the trend and trajectory of the business and get the growth mojo back.
So, the question is, have you reached a place where you actively need to partner with someone to achieve the change you desire?