We have Silicon Valley to thank for the myth of the hero entrepreneur, the visionary defying conventional wisdom and braving immense odds to shape the future itself, while we mere mortals scramble to keep up.
As myths go, it might seem fairly harmless – until the entrepreneurs themselves start to believe what everyone’s saying about them. They may no doubt be endowed with abnormal genius, vision, ambition or courage, but they are still human after all.
We all know what happens next. The egomaniacal control-freak founder just can’t let go. They treat a business with hundreds of employees like it’s still that basement start-up, where they used to decide everything down to the brand of teabag and the colour of the drapes. And in so doing, they become the single biggest barrier to their own business success.
Tragic, but hardly inevitable. With a touch of humility, good judgement can triumph over pride. Bill Gates, James Dyson and Larry Page all took a step back so others could take the CEO mantle (even if the likes of Google CEO Sundar Pichai will set you back $200m a year).
It doesn’t necessarily mean stepping away from the business entirely. Take Vaughan Rowsell (pictured), who founded New Zealand-based retail software firm Vend six years ago, before moving from CEO to chief product officer.
‘As the founder of Vend I’ve been both the guy who has built and helped develop the product and the CEO guy who looks after the business, for the company’s entire journey so far. I called them hats. I was juggling these two and both were hats I really loved and cared about. But the CEO has to consider everyone’s hat fit, even their own,’ Rowsell says.
‘In order to fully commit to being chief product officer, I needed to hand my CEO hat to someone else. It’s paid off so far – I now have ten emails in my inbox every morning, instead of 100.’
If you think it might all be getting a bit much for you, don’t bury your head in the sand. Instead, bring to bear that same ruthless determination that made your business a reality in the first place, and solve the problem.
Take a long look in the mirror
Are you really the best person at marketing, sales, finance, operations and strategy? If your reflection answers yes, you may have a problem. Either you really are a peerless wonder, you haven’t hired the right people, or you’re just not very good at delegating.
Take a break
If delegation is your problem, it might be useful to take a holiday. A nice long one on a distant island with no mobile signal, where the question ‘do you have fibre optic broadband’ causes vicious laughing fits from the locals.
You probably won’t have a good time, but by the time you get back, one of two things will have happened. Either your staff will have driven your business into the ground or you’ll have learnt that the world doesn’t stop turning when you go to sleep.
Either way, you’ll know.
Take a hike
Of course, you may already know - even if you don’t want to admit it.
‘As soon as you start struggling with a role – as it continues to grow with the company and needs more effort and skill, and you just can’t commit the time or energy to doing it justice any more – that’s when someone else who does have the expertise will do it better than you,’ counsels Rowsell.
‘There’s no failure in hiring someone better suited for CEO.’
For some people of course, no amount of introspection or wilderness trekking will be enough to make them let go. And those people face a choice. Do they want to be the CEO of a small company, or the owner of a big one?
If it’s the latter and you just can’t delegate, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about selling.
Image credit: neiljs/Flickr