Two friends of mine, born in the same place, work in the fashion industry. Over the years, each has gained access to very similar resources. Both have charismatic personalities and are natural leaders. Yet one of these women constantly struggles -- her business is broke and may have to close its doors—while the other woman’s company is now worth more than $1 billion.
The obvious question is: With so much in common, what’s the difference?
The short answer is, the successful entrepreneur had great self-awareness. Having her own “Aha” moment early on, she recognized what she did well and, just as important, where she needed help. She knew from the start to build a team with the right skills around her and then get out of their way. Her strategy allowed her to work her strengths and hire her weaknesses. Her key tactic -- and it’s a good one -- is to find people that play doing the things she considers work.
In effect, she fired herself as CEO, putting someone else in place with a track record of successfully building companies like the one she wanted to create. This allowed her to focus on product development, which is the work she does best and enjoys most. The company thrived.
In contrast, the struggling entrepreneur did two things wrong. First, she tried to do everything herself, from scheduling meetings to going on sales calls to making the product and shipping it to her customers. She was always so busy working in the business that she had no time to work on the business. Second, she put herself in the wrong role. Although she, too, was miscast as a CEO, she didn’t have the foresight to hand off the executive responsibilities to someone better suited to the job.
An important element of your entrepreneurial success is to build the right team around you. What do you need to know about yourself and your potential crew to get your business to break through to the next level? Stop doing it all! Instead, try the following:
Work your strengths and hire your weaknesses
One of the best qualities an entrepreneur can exhibit is self-awareness. Are you a visionary? Do you like to take risks? Are you better at setting up systems and managing day-to-day operations than thinking big? Is there a specific area like sales, marketing, or product development where you excel? Get clear about who you are and how you can help the organization most, then focus on filling the gaps by gathering the right people around you.
Sometimes entrepreneurs, perhaps out of pride, find it difficult to put someone else in the role of CEO. The same hesitation may also apply to other leadership roles. My advice? Get over it. This kind of limited thinking will only obstruct your path to success.
Aim to hire people more qualified and smarter than you and give them the tools they need to succeed. By the way, assigning somebody else a major role in the company doesn’t mean you have to give up your influence or ownership. When your role is in perfect alignment with who you are, you’ll be able to contribute more and really enjoy what you’re doing in the process.
When Sara Blakely got started, she worked on Spanx at night, filling orders from home and personally going into stores to rearrange product displays. As the business began to grow, she recognized that, at heart, she’s a visionary rather than a CEO. So, two years after she founded the company, she hired Laurie Ann Goldman, a woman with ten years of experience running a licensing division at Coca-Cola, as CEO. She played to her strengths and hired to cover her weaknesses. Basically, she knew what she didn’t know and was OK with that.
Be ready to substitute players
As your company grows, people who excelled early on may not be the right fit down the road. One manager may be great at taking a product to market but not know how to grow the business beyond a certain point. I’ve seen people perform brilliantly at one level who can’t shift gears to get the company to the next one; they’re great at taking a business to $1 million or even $10 million in sales, but not $100 million. That’s not surprising—different skill sets are needed at different levels—but you need to make sure you have the right people in the right places at the right time in your company’s life cycle.
One key thing to consider is that employees, partners, and contractors need to be comfortable working in a fast-paced, resource-constrained environment where they’ll likely be asked to juggle multiple tasks. Also, because getting your business off the ground is so time-consuming at first, you must be sure the people on your team don’t have any other major obligations during the critical go-to-market period. Once the business grows, you’ll need people who not only know how to do the job but can also manage others effectively. In the beginning, everyone does a bit of everything, but later on, once people have defined roles, strong leadership and management skills become increasingly important.
Bring in the right people, ones you can trust, give them all the tools they need to succeed, then get out of their way. Leverage your strengths and spend your days doing the work you enjoy most, and get comfortable delegating everything else. It could make the difference between going broke and building a billion-dollar business.
Image Credit: Hero Images | Getty Images
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