A prisoner in my own company
In the first few years after founding AP Logic, I went from being a dreamer and a creative person who was proactive to being someone who was drowning in a box of requirements and “to-dos”. Like any new business, there were things that weren’t working. I needed to learn and needed help.
But in getting help, some voices grew too loud. The business influencers around me were singing their favorite chorus… We had to do HR this way, needed to do sales that way, etc …We needed rules, we needed contracts…We needed 3 new business partners each month.
I started to hate it. I slowed down. I focused on tasks done even though I was bad at them.
How could I be trapped in my own business?
The problem was a subtlety I failed to catch: The advice to do all the correct process stuff wasn’t actually wrong. Slowing down and listening wasn’t wrong. To be fair, those tactical things are critical to running a business. But they are only critical when your vision – your strategy – is working and you are pursuing it relentlessly.
I had failed me. I was the leader and I had climbed in the back seat and let the tactics scare me into being reactive.
Instead of listening to the rules, I decided to work from my strengths.
Back in grade school, I played little league baseball. I was not a talented player. But I was fast. If I could get on base, then I could steal bases all the way home. It worked over and over again. The strategy was to just get on base and then use my speed. The tactics were learning to bunt, or hit grounders over towards third base.
Back to our business, my coach asked me why I was such a fast-moving person who wasn’t moving fast. I had a thousand reasons – but mostly because people couldn’t keep up. Her rejoinder surprised me: “You’re the CEO, surround yourself with people who can keep up. Their job is to keep up with you. You should love the process, not hate it.”
That day, I gave up the dream of being a big-company CEO. I wanted to be creative and fast, but not stuck in formalities.
What I did:
- I let go of a thousand details
- I invested twice the time and energy in the people who were closest to me. We held weekly one-on-ones. Nothing was off-limits. Trust went up.
- I found that we were breaking the rules. I got rid of those rules. I replaced them with big-picture objectives. I allowed myself to make subjective/qualitative judgments.
- I refused to accept “homework” from the team. No boomerang delegation.
Our team loves it and they’ve responded by notching up their performance accordingly. I have a lot less control, but a lot more influence. And a lot more freedom.
This blog post is a summarized version of my interview on Todd Uterstaedt’s podcast, From Founder to CEO.
To listen to the full interview, go here.