The Pendulum Effect of Becoming a Great CEO

Pendulum swingingThe meeting yesterday I had with a small business owner got me thinking about two perspectives: A little authority or a lot for his managers. A business owner will often grow and add employees. How does he/she become a better CEO? One of many tactics is to let your managers manage. But do you give them little pieces every few months with gradual increases in responsibility, or hand them the keys to the kingdom all at once and hope it works. Do you swing back and forth if you’re not happy with how it’s going?

Those first employee and manager additions are many times the wrong people. She or he will first bring on friends and family because they’re cheap help. The people who do the more technical craft part of the business are found through those friends and family. But the business owner keeps beating his/her head against the wall is forced to continue to managing the business with brute force. That means late nights dealing with personnel problems, project issues, customer challenges, and all the rest of the stuff. The business owner ends up doing a lot of the work that his employees should be doing well and doing right, but they can’t or won’t.

Since the people are not the right ones, the biz owner doesn’t feel comfortable relinquishing responsibility and authority to them. The owner’s dream is gone and the work is no fun for anyone.

This owner I met with wants to be more of an entrepreneur and eventually wants to be a true CEO. One that gives him 150 days off per year so he can spend more time with his active lifestyle and with his family.

Entrepreneurs make mistakes. They’re often control freaks. It’s hard to let go. Especially the technical- or engineering-oriented owners. They’re great at their craft, can hammer the nails correctly, use the right nails and put the nails in the right places. The first employees are hired so the business can hammer more nails and the owner can go find more places to get paid for hammering nails.

Then you eventually hire a manager or promote a hammerer. The big question is how quickly do you let them make big decisions.

The Pendulum Swings To The Left

The biz owner’s typical approach is to give the manager a few more little tasks to do. Those tasks are supposed to help by taking some things off his/her plate. The owner calls these a “trial” to see how well the manager does. The owner who has perfectionist tendencies sees the manager isn’t doing the tasks very well and it takes too long. So next time the owner just jumps in and does them himself…his way. The manager’s morale declines and all of his/her work quality suffers.

A few months later the CEO is getting sick of being frazzled and overworked. So he tries it again, this time giving his manager a little more latitude. The manager is excited again and his work quality goes up. He’s “all over it” this time. And it works out OK for the owner because that’s one more thing off his plate. Over the next 12 months, the owner gives the manager more and more authority and responsibility, pulling back and forth on certain things, but the owner is still involved a lot. He still micro-manages and wants to be involved in every decision.

The results of this approach:

  • Slow movement towards success
  • Morale destructing
  • Don’t accomplish much towards moving the owner towards his dream company
  • Shows the manager a lack of trust
  • Hangs on tight to the past
  • Owner feels stuck in a job that’s not fun anymore.

The Pendulum Swings To The Right

This is not typical, but its’ what the owner I met with did. He handed over a lot of authority and responsibility to his new manager.

The results of this approach:

  • More time with friends and family
  • Faster movement towards your dream company and work
  • It’s much harder initially since you’re out of your comfort zone
  • It’s much easier in the long run since you’ve got more time
  • You get to manage more exceptions rather than managing everything as an exception
  • You actually get to work not just on urgent things, but important things. You can see the difference now

The Difference

The difference is the perspective in these two opposing forces. When you let the pendulum swing to the left, you add things to the manager’s tasks as YOU see fit, and on YOUR timeline. You don’t want failure and can’t let go. You don’t feel like you’re making progress. You still have to manage everything as an exception rather than efficiently managing only the exceptions. This a brute force approach since you don’t know what you’ll be dong and your time is owned by everyone else. Everything is urgent and important.

When you let the pendulum swing to the right, you let the manager handle the problems. You give him a leash and decide how much rope he has. You don’t let him run out in the highway and get smacked down by a truck, but you let him run up as far as the curb. The manager still wants to add back some things to your plate, but now

it’s on your terms. You gain more control of your time. You let him come up with solutions, instead of you answering all the questions and solving all the problems. The manager won’t solve everything your way, but he’ll solve them. And when you build trust with the manager, he’ll let you know when he’s got questions, or needs your help. Over time it will be less. This is the opposite of brute force because you’re making the rules. You’re able to relinquish control. You’ll have things come back to you in the way of customer complaints and supplier problems, but if you keep focused the investment in initial troubles won’t be that big a deal. You’ll be the gatekeeper for your own schedule.

When you swing the pendulum to the right, you may have to adjust how far you’ve swung it. Try and pull it back just a little. Running a business is a roller coaster ride, so don’t pull it all the way back to the left or you’ll stay on the path of unpredictable results.

Swing your pendulum the best way. You’ll have more time to do what as great CEO should be doing.

Call me if you want some help swinging your pendulum the other way. Marty Koenig 303-995-4523 mkoenig@cxotogo.com

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