The difference between leading a company—and just running it

You came up with the idea. You built the company. You do the books, make the pitches, negotiate the deals, make the hard decisions. You do it all. So why does it sometimes feel like the business is running you?

 

It happens to most entrepreneurs in growing companies. Somewhere along the line, “doing it all” turns into micromanagement and instead of leading your company, it’s all you can do just to run it. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to change things. So how do you turn it around? It starts with recognizing the difference.

Systems and people At its core, the difference lies in your focus. If you are solely focused on the mechanism of your business—the moving parts, the numbers, the systems—then you’re not really managing your business. You’re just making yourself another cog in the machine.

Management is a focus on the people, not the systems, of your business. It’s the practice of taking what you do best—strategy, planning, big-picture thinking—and escaping the sticky fingers of the everyday. After all, you hire people to take care those tasks, to focus on those systems. Micromanage them and you train them to be dependent on your involvement, reinforcing the cycle and deepening the problem. Star performers don’t like being micromanaged—and you need star performers.

The catch-22You need top talent to lead your business, and you need a good HR organization to find and retain top talent. For small to mid-sized businesses, this can be a catch-22 where the entrepreneur doesn’t have the right people in place to free up enough time to find the right people. Add to this the time commitment required to build a culture of coaching and nurturing for those employees.

It’s a big step to bring in an outside HR agency to help, but it’s a critically important step for entrepreneurs caught in this kind of trap. As I wrote earlier, it’s easy to burn up 20 percent of your time on HR duties. Imagine what getting that kind of time back could mean to your strategic planning.

Leading your business means leading the people who make it run. That will never change. You’ll always be the one to turn on the lights at the start of the day, and the one who turns them off at the end. It’s what you do with the time in between that really matters.

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