What are the elements of great owners (and great leaders)? According to Platinum Group’s Bill English, great leaders understand that their thoughts and ideas are not infallible and that they have room to grow – and need to grow if their business is going to get to the next level. They grow by letting others challenge the following areas: their job performance, their logic in reaching conclusions, their natural isolation and their tendency to blame others for their company’s problems.
In other words, owners grow through accountability versus a distorted view of reality.
As a family business advisor with a focus on conflict resolution, leadership development and positive successions, Bill has often seen the common threads of a distorted view of reality. Read his blog post below for more insights into this common “disconnect” in family businesses.
Susan is the 2nd generation CEO of their family business. Her father is a private, untrusting and demanding man who built a $90M business. Because she grew up in the family business and has not worked elsewhere, when her dad named her the CEO (out of four siblings), she started to manage just like her father: not sharing information with anyone and routing most decisions through her office. She simply tells her siblings to “sign this” and expects them, as Board members, to sign documents at her directive. She pays herself over twice what her siblings earn and she keeps their compensations secret from their parents and each other. To resist her directives is tantamount to questioning her authority and competence. She thinks her parents and siblings should simply trust her every decision. This is what the family did for her father, so why should it be different for her now that she is in charge?
Susan has a distorted view of reality. It’s simply not realistic to think her siblings are going to step aside and let her run the show while keeping their mouths shut. That isn’t how functional families work. She’s not going to be successful being secretive and highly controlling. She’s going to need to share information and learn to trust those around her if their business is going to grow and prosper more than it has in the last 10 years. What worked for her dad isn’t going to work for her – it never does.
Bill has grown his business from scratch to over $10M. He’s a charismatic guy who is obviously talented and smart. But his success has gone to his head, so he’s a bit arrogant in his interactions. He enjoys not reporting to a boss and has a hard time collaborating with his management team. He is thought to be a moving target because he makes decisions quickly when new information appears and leaves behind his management team, who often can’t keep up. Key employees have started to leave his company and those waiting in the wings are reluctant to be promoted. While everyone agrees that Bill is talented, no one wants to work with him. Without accountability, Bill moves at a pace that damages his company and he doesn’t understand why people can’t just “get with it”, all the while blaming his team for not being “fast paced” and not living on “the cutting edge”.
Bill has a distorted view of reality. While Bill might enjoy a fast-paced environment, it’s simply not realistic to think that everyone else in the company enjoys that too. And it’s not realistic to think that fast decisions are always better than decisions which reveal themselves over time. Bill needs to slow down and needs to right-size his opinion of himself. He’s not God’s gift to business ownership. He should stop blaming his management team and start learning from them.
In both of these scenarios, we have common threads:
- The owner lacks proper accountability to anyone
- Their decisions are absolute
- The owners are not collaborative
- The owners blame their team for the results of the owner’s shortcomings.
What these two owners – and others like them – fail to understand is that life is fundamentally different for an owner vs. an employee. An owner’s reality can be different from an employee’s reality. Owners can become disconnected if they don’t take into consideration their employee’s reality. In addition, while owners have their own worries, what they don’t have is accountability to anyone unless they invite accountability into their personal and professional lives.
This is one of the elements of great owners (and great leaders): they invite others to shine the spotlight into their lives so they can improve both personally and professionally. Great leaders understand that their thoughts and ideas are not ex cathedra and that they have room to grow – and need to grow if their business is going to get to the next level. They grow by letting others challenge their job performance, their logic in reaching conclusions, their natural isolation and their tendency to blame others for their company’s problems.
When owners become humble, collaborate with their staff, seek to understand their staff and seek to grow personally and professionally, their staff will follow them more readily and will work harder to make their business as successful as it can be.
If you’re a business owner and this article is challenging you, then I encourage you to reach out and find a way to grow through accountability. It will be the best thing you have ever done for yourself, your business and your staff.
And if you want to grab a cup of coffee, just give me a call. No sales pitches – no hidden agenda.
Bill English, MA, LP, M.Div is a family business advisor with the Platinum Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He assists families with conflict resolution, leadership development and positive successions of their business as well as offering interim CEO work for family businesses in unexpected transitions. You can contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 952-259-3217.