A friend of mine runs a business, has done for years, and I know it’s not been an easy ride for him. He works long hours and is an incessant worrier. But the business has performed well; he makes a good living and the company has a great reputation.
Last week my friend was in a particularly dour mood. The reason? His right hand man of five plus years had the ‘tenacity to ask for a pay rise’.
I was surprise that my friend was so offended by the request. He’s always been a generous employer and I thought he would have been open to a talk about pay. So, I said as much, and he retorted with a grumble that sounded like ‘it’s not about the pay’.
Feeling a little tenacious myself I carried on digging until I finally got to the heart of the problem.
It turns out that my friend is cranky with his senior employees. To be blunt, he thinks his senior team are ‘a bunch of wimps who won’t take charge and make decisions’.
Probing a little deeper I discovered that my friend actually quite likes taking all the business decisions himself – though he’d never admit it – and that his frustration is more because he doesn’t have the time to make decisions properly.
The problem of course is that he’s never going to have ‘enough’ time. Not unless he scales down his business considerably. So my friend doesn’t have an option – he needs to find a way to get his team to make some of those decisions for him.
So I set about finding out a little more about the senior team and why, in particular, they weren’t the decision-making type.
Thanks to a mole I have inside the business, the answers were quick to find.
It turns out that my friend – who socially is a gentle, humble chap – is Mr-Know-It-All in the business. He is heavily involved in almost every facet of the business, rarely gives his senior team any meaningful authority and requires everyone to seek his sign off on even the smallest matters.
So having had to get the OK on everything for years the team now simply defers to my friend on every matter requiring a decision. After years of being made to feel incapable of taking charge, the team are now living up to those low expectations.
So what can my friend do to remedy the situation?
The best place for him to start is by asking his senior team for some help. If he can bear to admit that he doesn’t know how to fix everything, his senior team will quickly get back on board to help find the answers.
By showing his team that he’s not perfect they will soon love my friend again (we all love an underdog) and they will be fired up to help the business kick some goals.
The role of CEO is often said to be lonely. And it is if you can’t let anyone see you as anything other than perfect. But if you have a senior team who you hired precisely because they are good at stuff that you aren’t, well then it needn’t be lonely at all.
Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).