This is the second of a three-part series for my Kitsap Sun business column…
This is the second of a three-part series on running a family business profitably and equitably. Over the past 27 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of family businesses. Even though the industries differ, the challenges surrounding them are very common. In the next two columns, I will draw attention to the three most critical topics that all family businesses need to address for both profitability and family bliss.
So you work for “the man,” do you? Or maybe, “the woman?”
So much of our popular culture revolves around the conceptualization of the persecuted and overburdened employee who works for a horrible boss and uncaring business. A modern day Willy Loman character that is doomed to a dreadful employment while the boss lives a carefree existence carousing on their yacht and mansion.
When it comes to small family businesses, the true picture is often very different.
I find that a very high number of business owners fled one horrible boss for an even worse boss…themselves! So many of you — yes, you — have started or inherited family businesses and find yourselves being treated more contemptibly than you’d accept from any other employer.
Let’s do a quick check:
Do you start work at 6 a.m. and then stop at about 8 p.m. (or later)?
Do you take fewer vacation days than your employees?
Do you accept and return work calls and email until you go to bed?
Do you go to work sick, even when you’d not allow employees to do the same?
Do you fear leaving your business unattended by you for more than a week? So much so that you constantly are checking in when you’re away?
Do you hate your boss?
Let’s be clear. I’ve seen all of these iterations in small family-run businesses over the past 27 years. I’ve heard all the usual excuses:
“I have to make sure the work is done to the company standard…”
“No, I really thrive when working in chaos for 12 hours a day…”
“I have to set a good example of work ethic or else nobody would work hard…”
“I’m not a micro-manager; it’s just that I need to know everything that goes on in my business…”
“My employees feel empowered when I’m always around. They hate it when I’m gone…”
“Oh, I’m only being controlling until (fill in the blank)…”
I could go on for the entire column. In fact, you may have others to share, especially if you are employed at a family business!
Here’s the stark reality of the situation — if you own and operate a small family business and can’t walk away for two months without touching it, then you don’t have a business, you have a job! In my experience, entrepreneurs start their businesses not to have a job, but to create jobs; create value; do what they love; and eventually sell that business to fund the rest of their lives. If you work yourself to the bone and create a condition where you’re always stressed out, burned out, and dreading your work, you may not have a much of a life left to enjoy.
The answer is to stop hating your boss. Here’s my five-step process to doing that quickly:
1. Empower your employees: That means train and then trust them. They want autonomy and the permission to fail and learn. That means delegate things that you shouldn’t be doing anymore. It means that you must create a culture and operation where you’re working yourself out of a “job!”
2. Take time off: Force yourself to take vacation time. You can still make yourself accessible in the event of an emergency, but in most cases it won’t happen. Your life balance requires relaxation and recharge. Take it.
3. Give yourself a break: Too many CEOs by their own actions seem to require perfection in themselves. If you do that, stop. You don’t require perfection from employees (and if you do, stop that, too). Allow yourself to be human, to make mistakes, and to be resilient. By doing this, you’ll alleviate stress and anxiety in yourself and your employees.
4. Ferociously guard your time: I cover this in my book, Unleashed Leadership. Learn how to prioritize by triaging what is urgent, important, and normal. The bulk of the time will actually be spent on the last one. Your time is extremely valuable. Save it for what only you can do and what you want to do.
5. Commit to having fun: That’s right. You can have fun. What does this look like? For the savvy CEO of a small family business it looks like actually enjoying what you do and manifesting it through your self-talk, your behavior, and your leadership. You must have a passion for your product or service; must enjoy people; must be a lifelong learner; must be a risk-taker; and must be an encourager. You must be able to reward and forgive yourself; seek out new challenges; create and innovate; and be a positive influence in your company.
People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. You’re stuck with yourself. You’d better come to a lifelong “employment agreement” where you wouldn’t even dream of working for anyone else.
Next month, Part 3: Dysfunction junction — What’s your function?
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