I’m not, by nature, a team person. I have five brothers and sisters, and we had one bathroom growing up, which may have scarred me when it comes to playing nice with others. I ran cross country, which is technically a team sport, although everyone runs their own race. Today, much of the content work I do is at times solitary, in that I often am writing blogs or making videos without any kind of team around me.
All this is not to say that I don’t like working with others — just that the circumstances and budgets I’m often working with don’t afford larger crews. When I have the opportunity to work with a larger crew, I love it. It’s easy to believe that more voices will lead to more confusion — and sometimes it can — but mostly, it leads to better end results.
I really like feedback. In most of the projects I’ve been involved with that have hit stumbling blocks that weren’t time or budget related, feedback was a sticking point. I’ve discovered the high value of teams who provide valuable ideas and feedback, as well as a love of those who are willing to bring ideas and questions to the table when they’re talking to their boss, manager, company owner or peers.
People want to feel like they have an impact, like their thoughts and ideas matter to those around them. It’s human to attach our work satisfaction to how we’re valued by those around us, and by how the ideas we present are received. We tend to be a leadership-obsessed culture, so the idea of allowing other people to take the lead is often rejected out of hand, especially among small businesses, where it arguably may be needed most. Many small business owners lead from a place of strength, taking all the responsibility on themselves and making most or all the decisions. But that leads to high stress, sleepless nights, unhappy staff members and mistakes.
Traditional leadership to most is having authority over others, so allowing others to give critical feedback or take the lead can feel counterintuitive. Allowing oneself to instead be a follower and encouraging those under you to take ownership of projects, problems and solutions creates value for them within their job and affords you the opportunity to know something is taken care of so you can move on to the next task.
I’ve observed that one of the main reasons business owners and managers struggle with relinquishing control to others is the idea that no one cares as much about your business as you do. That’s correct. They don’t and never will. You cannot expect those who do not have an ownership or high-management-level stake to treat a business as though it’s their own. What you can do is expect them to treat the section of the business you’ve given them to oversee as their own, by empowering them to manage it.
Empowering people on your staff to manage aspects of your business allows you to focus on what you need to focus on, and it gives your staff something to make their own and be invested in. Trusting them to give you feedback, make suggestions and ultimately reshape the way you may have done things for years can at first leave you feeling defensive or as though things are getting out of your control. Resist that feeling. You cannot manage inventory, lessons, band instrument rentals and customer service at the same time, and do all of them very well. If you do manage all of these things by yourself, I guarantee one or more of them is suffering. It’s impossible to do more than one
or two things at a time — at least, if you’re trying to do them right. Any more than that, and your focus becomes too divided and your work begins to suffer.
Forming teams is one of the best ways to learn where you can delegate responsibility to others. Regular meetings are a great way to get problems into the open and devise solutions. It’s important to set a tone of constructive criticism, to encourage curiosity and outside-the-box thinking, and to not shoot everything down because it didn’t come from you or because it isn’t something you would normally do. Be an active listener. Try to ask questions that lead to good discussion points and lead the team toward coming up with solutions.
Once those things are put in place, hold those in charge accountable by discussing how things are going and staying open to making additional changes as problems come up. It’s important to try new things, although you want to walk, not run, toward making changes. Ultimately, it’s important to realize that success doesn’t mean you having every idea or being in charge of every aspect of your business. Success is having a healthy, thriving business with staff members who want to be there because they can grow, learn and contribute to the company.
Be a follower. Allow others to lead, and you will be grateful you did.
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