had to laugh at a friend of mine last week when he called with a tremendous business opportunity, and was ready to invest in this new deal. The funny part was this call came only two weeks after he was telling me about his retirement strategy and plans to divest his current business. It was as if he had forgotten all about the previous call with the excitement over this new deal.
This guy, like many of us, can’t stand it if he’s not at work by 8 am, he hates being out of touch with daily decision-making, hates the feeling of not being involved at the office. He has a tremendous work ethic and always has. So I had to ask, “What are you thinking? I thought it was time to retire?” His response was simple, “I can’t pass up this great opportunity!”
This guy loves his job, loves the industry and what we do. And he’s good at it, and has become wildly successful. The problem is, he can’t see beyond what he does today and what his future role in the company could be if he let go of his daily routine. He is obsessed with being the owner of a systems integration company and to him that means working side-by-side every day with his managers. Sound familiar?
So, I told him to become a mentor to others while he maintains the drive and passion for our industry and his company. He has always been a do-er and problem solver. To him, work ethic means doing something related to sales, operations or accounting. He doesn’t relate at all to what a mentor role could mean for him or the future success of the business – which is very typical of our industry.
Mentoring is simply coaching with a structured action plan. It’s very hard to accomplish this when a structure has yet to be developed. Years ago mentoring was simply on the job training to build or produce a product. Now it is more about teaching the processes and recourse for decisions that need to be made. A good mentor goes well beyond demonstrating how to build something and shares why the product or service is important to customers, why the company does what they do in the first place. They share the culture, the history, the past successes and failures, the best methods of communicating and vision for the future.
There are many decisions you make on a daily basis that you don’t need to be making. These can easily be made by those who you empower and delegate if you’ve coached them to think like an owner… like you think. This process breaks down when senior managers try to prove how irreplaceable they are by not properly mentoring those empowered to make decisions on their own. It’s a waste of company resources, and will most often drive good people away from the company.
It’s OK to have your key employees know everything you know as long as you have taught them how to think like an owner. But, the fear is that they will leave and start their own business if you share your secrets and intellectual property with them. The reality is, this can happen, and that’s a risk you’ll have to take. The bigger risk is having no one ready to lead if something were to happen to you.
So when should the transition to mentor begin? I would suggest when you can honestly say you have nothing left to prove or accomplish as a “hands-on” manager or owner. I also believe we can wait too long before realizing when that time has come and run the risk of losing good people who don’t see a future because of it.
Someone recently told me that a good financial plan for a retiring business owner is to have at least the same value in equities outside the company as what the business is worth. That allows for more exit strategy options and far less stress. But in reality, most of the owners/partners in our industry have nearly everything tied up in their own company. The reason why is that they have more confidence in their own work ethic and capabilities than they are willing to place in others. I strongly suggest identifying others who have your work ethic and then channeling your efforts into mentoring them. This will protect your investment and allow you more options and eventually far less stress. – C