This article isn’t exactly marketing material. In fact, it will probably convince a number of you that you don’t want to (and even shouldn’t) take your team through my Capacity Intensive program to get your business into Predictable Success. Why? Because the #1 reason founders (who want to take their business into Predictable Success) never make it there has nothing to do with the value of their product, the size of their market, or their capacity as a leader.
The #1 reason they pull back on the reins is that they have the wrong people on their leadership team and are unwilling to make the necessary changes.
This is what happened to John. He had built an incredible business, and Gary had been there since day one. John was your classic entrepreneur. He left a promising career at a prominent tech company in the valley to try out his hand at doing his own thing. He’d grown tired of the bureaucracy and mind-numbing meetings and wanted to do something remarkable.
But he knew he couldn’t do it alone. That’s why he recruited Gary to jump ship and join him. He and Gary had known each other since college. Their careers had followed different paths, John going into business development and Gary software development, but they always kept in touch.
Now, together, they were a force to be reckoned with. The relationship was symbiotic, to put it mildly. They just got each other. John would come up with some crazy idea or make some outlandish promise to a client, and somehow Gary would make it happen. They worked 100+ hour weeks together and loved it. Every week was a race across the finish line, and somehow they made it every time it really mattered.
The business grew, and as it did, John and Gary increasingly took on more managerial roles. Their 5-person startup was now a 50 person firm with offices in San Jose and New York.
John hired a few sales reps so he could focus on new ideas and big client relationships. His role took on an increasingly strategic perspective.
Gary also found himself managing more people, but he didn’t take to it as well as John did. For Gary waiting on others (who were always slower) was agony. He constantly felt caught between John pulling him forward and the rest of the team dragging behind him. He could be short with those who didn’t keep up and had a habit of jumping in to fix everything himself if a project got behind. He wouldn’t admit it, but the stress was really building up.
Still, John and Gary’s relationship was great. That was until one leadership team meeting.
The New York office was struggling. They’d dropped the ball on a few big projects recently, and the team was trying to figure out what went wrong.
That’s when John noticed Gary wasn’t there. Well, he was physically there, but John could tell Gary’s mind was somewhere else. Gary had always hated meetings and did his best work on his own. But here and now, John needed Gary. The New York office actually reported to Gary, but for some reason, he just didn’t care to engage here in the meeting.
For whatever reason, this time, John recognized how big a problem this was. It wasn’t the first time Gary wasn’t paying attention. In fact, over the last couple of months, Gary had missed several important issues brought up in meetings. He seemed to increasingly be going against the grain of the rest of the company.
After the meeting, John took a moment to think about it. He needed Gary to be better in meetings. He needed Gary to be more strategic. He needed Gary to lead. He also knew Gary wasn’t that kind of leader.
He talked to Gary about it one evening over a couple of beers, and the two agreed a change was needed. John was going to try to dial back on some of the new ideas, and Gary was going to start working on contributing more strategically in meetings and focus on growing as a leader.
But nothing changed. Gary continued to struggle, the New York office continued to flounder, and John found himself faced with an incredibly difficult decision. One of them had to go, the New York office or Gary.
An incredibly difficult decision
John knew the right “business” decision was to move Gary out of his role or maybe even out of the company. But he couldn’t do it. Gary had given too much. He was like a brother to John. Gary was probably responsible for the majority of the success the company had achieved. Without him, John never would have even gotten the business off the ground.
John lost a lot of sleep trying to decide what to do. In the end, he owed too much to Gary to just cut him off. John closed the New York office, and he and Gary focused their team back on providing incredible service out of their San Jose office.
John knew in his heart that it was the right decision, but it cost him dearly. Before the New York office failed, the sky was the limit. There was nothing that the two of them couldn’t do. Now, John knows that isn’t true. They won’t be opening new offices around the globe and becoming the next billion-dollar IPO.
But he doesn’t regret it for a moment. Gary is back in his sweet spot. They love working together, and the two take family vacations together to San Diego in the summer and Salt Lake City in the winter.
Despite their best efforts, some leaders aren’t built to lead in Predictable Success. What makes this particularly problematic is that those same leaders are often exceptional in the earlier stages of the business lifecycle.
Their time in the company can often be traced back to Early Struggle. The Visionary (you) has launched a new company. While they know they have a grand vision and a great idea, they also know they need someone else to help execute that idea and make it happen.
Usually, these new leaders are Operators. They don’t tend to think of themselves as leaders. Instead, they pride themselves on getting stuff done. They excel in a small business’s relative simplicity, where hustle and grit are the primary drivers of success.
This occurrence is so common we have a name for these leaders: Big Dog Operators.
If you have a Big Dog Operator or a leader who’s built up a ton of sweat equity but isn’t the leader you need moving forward, you have to make a choice.
You need to
- Change the vision and keep the leader, or
- Keep the vision and change the leader.
As much as you and I don’t want this to be true, you know deep down inside that it is. You have to choose. Yesterday’s leaders rarely create tomorrow’s growth.
The good news
Here’s the good news, you get to choose. Now, I know that doesn’t feel like good news when you have to choose, but it’s true. Imagine if you were forced to take the option you didn’t want. That would be awful.
And here’s some more good news either option is valid.
As founders, we can trap ourselves into thinking one option is better or more morally right than the other. But that’s not the truth. Changing your vision to keep a leader is incredibly honorable. Changing the leader to keep the vision is also incredibly honorable.
It’s not really about what you decide; it’s about what you do after you decide. If you change the vision to keep the leader but then resent them for what they’ve cost you, there’s no honor in that. It is cowardice. But if you change the leader and fully embrace the relationship as John did, then I applaud you.
If you change the leader to keep the vision and just throw that leader to the curb, there is no honor in that either. It is cowardice. However, if you keep the vision, give the leader a chance to grow, then find another role inside or outside the company that is a better fit for them, then you’ve done a difficult but remarkably kind thing.
The only invalid option
The only invalid option, the one that many of us choose, is to do nothing. We want to keep our vision and our friend. In doing so, we do a great disservice to our friend, our other leaders, our employees, ourselves, and even our customers.
Founding, leading, and growing a company are not easy tasks. Founders bear an enormous responsibility, and there are times when exercising that responsibility is incredibly uncomfortable. However, that discomfort only grows when left unaddressed. Making these decisions quickly and compassionately and accepting the consequences of those decisions wholly is the best way to limit the pain for you and everyone else involved.
This isn’t easy. If you find yourself in the difficult position of choosing between your vision and your leader(s), my heart goes out to you. I hope that this article has helped you to recognize the only thing you can’t do is not make a decision. I hope you feel the freedom and power to choose what you want. I hope you sense the courage to walk that decision through with confidence and grace.
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