During a magical 18-year period, I had the fortune of co-founding and leading an aerospace company, called EMTEQ, from its start in my basement to its expansion into an international organization with locations in four countries. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons during this time.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was to stop feeling like I had to make every business decision. I was an owner who was consumed by the day-to-day operations. I was forming a habit in which I only worked in the business when I really needed to work on it. At this time, the company hired some very good leaders who were capable of leading if they had the chance.
During the early years, so many people, including customers, key employees and suppliers, relied on my decisions. I was living with an adrenaline rush of being the person that figured things out and made things happen. A firefighting mode would set in.
Something unplanned always happened. Whether it was a major challenge with a delivery, a product failure, or a key account or employee leaving, something drew my attention away from accelerating our growth.
Owners and leaders can be dragged into these situations by necessity. Staff looks at them to step in and the leader naturally wants to help. The employees at times may even consider the owner or leader as the messiah and look to them to save the day. This can lead to becoming stuck in a current business state. The only way the business can grow is by working harder and longer and with brute force.
The reality is that it’s easier to work in the business instead of on it. The work is in front of the owner and they truly want to feel valued. Even if they try to bring in a new leader to run the daily operations, the owner still may parachute in to save the day when things aren’t going right.
Running a business doesn’t have to be like this. Employees should become the driving force of the business’ growth. It is not uncommon for the owner or founder to become the limiting factor to the growth of the organization.
It’s the owner’s responsibility to get out of the way and let this kind of growth happen. Great things can happen when there is a shared vision and mission, an understandable business plan, organizational rigor and, most importantly, a sense of ownership. Staff can be supported and encouraged through this process while being allowed to do their own thing.
This starts with trusting employees. Business trust refers to the trust of letting people do their jobs and make decisions on behalf of the customer. I made all the decisions for EMTEQ before I realized how inefficient and disruptive it was. When employees are empowered and they know how important they are to the business, they will go above and beyond their original call to action.
A major part of trusting your employees is allowing and celebrating mistakes. Yes, they will make mistakes, and those are great to learn from. If owners did all the work because they believed they could do the job well, they are missing the chance to develop the people that could possibly do it better. EMTEQ had a culture that encouraged mistakes. Imagine what would happen if our staff was fearful of admitting them and something like a defective part was on its way to be put into an aircraft?
The culture of your business should include transparency. Let staff know the financials of the business and let them take action to help meet the forecasted numbers. The owner will feel less alone when they have the employees’ buy-in and support that is needed to achieve growth.
When your employees are empowered and involved in the growth of your business, you will be able to watch the business grow. Areas including customers, innovation, productivity and culture will all naturally increase the financial health of the business. The delegated workload will give you more time to work on the business, instead of spending time firefighting.