Legacy or casualty?
Let it go
“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” - James Baldwin
The CEO of a company I once worked at lamented at a company gathering that the organization had “too many thinkers and not enough doers.” Those of us doing the work were puzzled and confused. Did this mean we were reorganizing, abandoning our business plan? Our firm was an acknowledged industry leader, had been growing well, and we had been successful at transitioning our product from a low-margin commodity to a knowledge-based high end offering.
The CEO was an old-school sort. He had built the company and was definitely more comfortable with counting the widgets others produced, than counting the increasing dollars produced by fewer widgets and widgeteers. His words were often repeated back, profanely, over some ill-conceived productivity edict from on-high. The managers under him (including me) had to quickly rally staff to keep on keeping on. Ultimately, the CEO lost all credibility with those he needed to manage his business. The magic formula wore off.
Another exec I worked with was a rainmaker, adept at bringing in business, but unable to manage that business or the people and processes needed to operate it. He used to brag to peers about how big his staff was. He was referring (of course) to the size of his team; how many employees he had. Maybe he was compensating for his shrinking business. The business was failing because his attempts at motivating consisted of gathering staff early on Monday mornings to review the expected production for the week, which meant that said staff had to work late on Fridays or over the weekend, to prepare reports that were not to be read, but rather presented. It was all performative, and got scathing reviews. Ultimately, it was destructive. The firm went limp because it gained a reputation as a poor place to work and could not hire or retain staff.
What these true tales have in common are founding executives whose businesses grew beyond their own talents and skills, and who were unable or unwilling to make the adjustments necessary to let others lead. Their “doing” ability got their firms far; their delegating capacity is where they came up short. This is often the case with smaller organizations, especially those transitioning from founder managers.
There is an old adage: if your business can’t operate without you, you have a job, not a business. If you are stuck, let go. Find others to move it forward and get out of their way. Coach, don’t do. That is how effective, transformative change happens. And how an organization builds a legacy, rather than becomes a casualty.
“When you let go of who you are, you become who you might be.” - Rumi
Excellent post, Al. "A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old goes to ground." - Ernest Shackleton