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Entrepreneurs are famous for not wanting to “let go” of the companies they birthed.
A large part of the work we do at my management firm in helping our clients develop their businesses is helping the owners learn to let go of responsibilities as they grow. This extends beyond the owner to include many of the key managers in their companies.
On several occasions, I’ve written about an entrepreneur’s obsession with controlling things in his business, including finances, advertising and marketing, day-to-day decisions and even minute details.
James Krantz, a professor at the Yale School of Organization and Management, calls this behavior Projective Identification: “We project onto people in our organizations our worst fears and doubts in an emotional self-fulfilling prophesy. This emotional sabotage is especially prevalent in boss and subordinate relationships. These unconscious agreements serve a rather sinister psychological function: They keep people from facing or even recognizing problems, bad news or conflicts. If a boss can blame some defect of his own — and the resulting problems in the organization — on a subordinate, then he never needs to face the real source of trouble himself. One symptom of this kind of projection — ‘the problem is with him, not me’— is a boss who can never find or name a replacement for himself. Every candidate has too many flaws.”
Wow! Does this ever sound familiar! It starts early in the life of the company when the owner has difficulty getting off the truck. Many owners feel no one can do the job as well, or deliver the same level of customer service, as they do. As a result, they feel their customers will abandon them if they send someone other than themselves into the customers’ homes.
Talk about virtually handcuffing yourself to the cleaning wand or the air mover!
Consciously deciding to go it alone is one thing. Lots of people do, and that’s fine. But playing the victim by saying nobody is as good as you are or that nobody wants to work anymore or that your customers won’t accept anyone but you is quite another. Maybe it’s time to see if we’re not doing some Projective Identification ourselves.
The struggle to let go doesn’t always end when the business owner moves beyond doing front line work. Frequently, it continues as the business grows. We struggle with letting anyone other than ourselves handle the operations end of the business, or we never really trust someone else to handle the books.
As the business grows, we sometimes hesitate to let go, to listen to and act on other people’s opinions regarding the direction of our companies. In its most sinister form, we surround ourselves with people who allow us to continue this behavior.
There are no magic pills that give people the confidence to let go, no seminars to attend or webinars to watch. Gaining the confidence to let go is a process. It’s a learned skill that starts with asking questions of ourselves.
I agree with author and business expert Greg Hicks when he mentions in his book, Leadershock, that one of the leading questions we should ask ourselves whenever we’re presented with a business problem (like difficulty letting go) is: “What does it say about me that this problem exists — about my practices, my systems, my relationship with my customers and staff?”
By candidly answering these questions, we take a giant step toward letting go and growing.
Chuck Violand understands the unique challenges of small businesses, having owned a commercial cleaning and water damage mitigation company for 26 years. He founded Violand Management Associates (VMA) in 1988 as a consulting, teaching and training resource for owners of small businesses. To learn more about VMA's services and programs, visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.