Business owners are by nature controlling creatures. It’s understandable, right? You had a vision for how you could make the world better, took responsibility for making it happen, and out emerged a business. How can anybody else do it better than you?

If that’s your thinking, kindly slap yourself twice and look around. You know full well what you’re good at, and you know what you’d love others to be better at than you…otherwise you’ve got to do it all. If you’re stretched too thin, struggling to progress and feeling like your visionary business has become a burden, maybe you need to replace yourself and discover the art of freedom.

Your people aren’t your problem

Whenever I start work with a business owner, it’s always because someone who knows and values the work I do has referred me to them. It happens in one of three ways – they are facing a progression, succession or crisis event. In truth, I’m really not needed until people have reached their own capacity. In my first conversation with the owner, they will likely list all the woes that come from their people or their competitors getting in the way of their success. Toward the end of the conversation, it’s inevitably time for me to hold a mirror up to them and point out that, in my experience, they are their own greatest challenge. It comes back to what I said at the start – business owners are by nature controlling creatures.

Yes, most business owners know they should have a documented vision, mission, purpose and values to define their culture. They know that a strategic plan will make a significant difference. They also know the importance of operational plans that create clarity of roles for everybody. Yet, these are rarely done. Why? Because these things are self-evident to the owner. They see their culture, strategy and operations with extraordinary clarity and know exactly what needs to be done. For them, their challenge (as they see it), is one of wishing that everyone else would do what they wanted!

There’s a wonderful truth I heard from an 88-year old man who was sitting on the stoop of a property in western Queensland, listening to a good friend of mine complain about the people working for him. He turned slowly to my friend and said, “Jim, if they were as good as you wanted them to be, you’d be working for them”.

When you think the people around you are the problem, it’s time to change gears.

Great leaders don’t cover all roles

Freedom comes when you learn that your vision, expressed with clarity, will attract good people. When you support those good people in understanding your strategic plan, and help to unblock them operationally every day, they can turn into great people. The longer they work with you, the more effective they become. As you journey together, you see that replacing control with trust is a powerful function of moving from one mind across everything, to many minds sharing a plan.

What happens then? You get to discover life balance. When the plan is clear, and the people are right, suddenly you’re needed less. You can choose to further expand your business or invest time and love in your family. You might discover what it’s like to have a hobby, to travel and to enjoy the value of the wealth you have created.

Freedom is always bound by you playing a clear role that fits in with the roles of those great people you’ve built up in your business. Yours should be the role of the leader, visionary and fresh thinker – the one who has time to travel and contemplate and enjoy family – the wise one who brings perspective. When you’ve had enough of wearing every hat because no one else is capable, you’re better placed to create the space needed for your people to step up. Replacing yourself is where freedom begins.

Rod Douglas

My passion is working alongside owners and executive leaders of high-growth businesses to help them make positive change possible. I empower leaders to manage the challenges of succession, progression or crisis – particularly where my expertise in culture, strategy and value will make a real difference.