I know this seems like an odd statement but sometimes for an owner of a business, getting sick can be a positive thing. A forced owner absence can be good for a business. Owners work day and night to build their business and control details. As a business matures, such control may not be as necessary as you might think.
Jack Smith was a typical small business owner. He worked 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., coming home exhausted. Even though the business had become more successful, his work habits really didn’t change, they were just more spread out. He kept his fingers in many of the business’ details. He enjoyed working and it was a lot of his identify. Jack had a serious car accident. He spent two weeks in the hospital and two weeks flat on his back at home. He was too sick to go to work but finally was able to return part time. In the beginning there were lots of hugs and back slaps. As time passed, he reflected on the impact of his absence. Here are some things he discovered.
Everything went pretty well without him. In fact, many of the segments of the business where he had always kept his finger in the pie ran very well without him. For day-to-day tasks, long-term employees knew how to do their job. He also discovered that much of his worry and involvement was habitual. He had always done it that way, so he just kept on doing it. While it felt odd not to be as active in these daily mundane responsibilities, he discovered his effort was not producing a return on his time.
He also discovered that life is short, and he needed to find outside interests. Nothing like facing your mortality to help you revise priorities. Working all the time with few non-work-related activities was not as satisfying as it once was. His business had dominated his life and now he had worked himself out of a job. He also determined that he needed new purpose in and outside of his business. Business activities require a goal, strategy, thinking and purpose. Long term, he believed he would not be happy just playing golf or fishing. In fact, he now found mundane work-related activities boring. It was the problem solving and strategic side of the business he truly enjoyed.
He also unexpectedly discovered what he missed was work socialization. He enjoyed working with his managers and employees. It was good to be back at work because he had gotten lonely. Owning a business can feel lonely, but total health-related isolation can create an entirely different sense of loneliness. People need interaction to survive.
While the business ran day-to-day, it struggled strategically. Several income possibilities were missed, a good customer left, etc.; all of which he could have creatively solved. Management was not the issue; it was leadership and direction that was missing. Employees were slow on the uptake when opportunities presented themselves.
So, what is your role as business owner? To lead the business and not worry about ordering toilet paper for the restroom. Strategy is about establishing and designing a plan to reach the objectives of the business. Management without leadership is like aligning the deck chairs on the Titanic — while it might seem important at the time, in the big picture it really did not matter. We can employ people who align the deck chairs but someone needs to ensure we don’t hit the iceberg.
Leadership is influencing others around you to accomplish organizational goals. Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Effective leadership focuses on changing and reaching long-term outcomes, not daily tasks.
My family beagle was injured while chasing the garbage truck. As I took him to the vet, I looked down and wondered what he was going to do when he caught the garbage truck. Your role as leader of your organization is to ensure that mid-level managers and other employees are not chasing the garbage truck.
In the example of Jack, refocusing his sense of purpose created immense satisfaction. He redefined his role as chief strategist and let the others focus on the daily activities. His near demise forced him to look at work differently. Do not confuse the urgent with the important. Successful people get done what is important. This sounds easier than it is, as you must evaluate what is important and avoid distraction.