Whether sudden or seen coming, it punctuates our story.
Our tribe's story includes us for a time; then, it does not.
Though, regardless of our intent, our story leaves an indelible mark on those that we leave behind.
I have lived through many such punctuations.
The death of a man who was larger than life and more epic in proportions than I had the capacity as a teenager to comprehend.
The death of a son that I only knew while he was in-utero and the brief moments after he was born -- a life unlived that haunts me with all of the untold stories about what he might have become.
The death of a woman whose brilliance was stripped from her in life as she slowly lost her ability to remember and comprehend reality.
The slow death of a friend whose penchant for calling me out on my bullshit was only matched by her hospitality and love through some of the most challenging times of my life.
The sudden loss of a friend and mentor who somehow knew exactly when I needed to be encouraged the most -- he called at the very moment I was sitting alone in my car on a very dark morning wondering how I had gotten to that place in my life.
Holding the hand of the woman who was the center of our extended family for as long as I could remember -- the woman whom I had snuck milkshakes and pizzas in the last year of her life in the retirement home.
Then just this last year, the loss of my dog of 15 years, three moves, and two careers.
He was a rescue and given to me by my wife on a day when I was struggling to find my way as a teacher.
I used to be angry, sad, and flirting with depression because of death.
Repeating unhealthy, self-destructive habits because I refused to allow myself to grieve and heal.
That is until I sat on top of a mountain and just cried.
I was wandering without an agenda and found an isolated place at 13,000 feet.
As I sat and took in the view of what seemed like the entirety of the Southeastern quarter of Colorado, I began to cry.
And the tears did not stop as I began to sob.
It is a unique experience to sob at high altitude.
It is hard enough to breathe already, so the sobs come in waves, and I am sure sounded like seal cries.
For an unclear amount of time, the waves of grief crashed hard.
But after the waves were done, the tide of emotion was allowed to ebb and flowed out.
Left in its wake were peace and perspective.
I am convinced that death is not the enemy.
Not something to be angry at, demand answers of, or rail against.
But it is instead death is the punctuations that amplify our stories.
Just like a run-on sentence without punctuation starts to lose its way, a story without end drags on and on bereft of meaning.
Our stories are punctuated by death and grief as much as they are by anticipation and joy.
Fleeing from the death and subsequent grief of those in our tribe, is like trying to hold back the tide -- at the end of the day, the waves win.
Do not demand answers of death; it is not inclined to give any.
But death and grief can amplify.
Amplify and enrich our stories by punctuating them.
"And then she died."
"And then he was gone."
But their stories leave an indelible imprint on us.
And as we embrace grief, we transition to a new part of the story without them.
The punctuation at the end of their life is not the end of the story, but a poignant transition to the rest of it.
I have worked with a number of leaders, small business owners, and entrepreneurs who are tremendously skilled and talented at what they do.
Many of them pursued forming a business that aligned with their skills and talents.
And just as many of them have come to realize that running a successful business is a whole other skill set than what inspired them to strike out on their own.
There is no shame in realizing that having a vision for a successful entrepreneurial endeavor is not the same thing as having the talents and skills necessary to run that endeavor.
Those skill sets rarely come as a package deal.
Surround yourself with a tribe of amazing people who are better than you at everything you aren't good at.
Then focus on what you are the best at.
If you can do that, you will stop forcing processes and start unlocking potential.
The potential of your vision, the potential of your team, and the potential of what you created to grow into something more than what you could have imagined on your own.
Lead from your strengths wanders!
And call out the strengths of others.
See you over the next ridge!
Most modern day belief systems were founded prior to the rise of the scientific method.
What this means is not only were the writings that underly those belief systems often scribed in different languages, by writers in different cultures, but that the need to prove themselves right or set out a formulation of systemic beliefs were not a priority to them.
It may be our own hubris that says ancient writings must be interpreted thru modern lenses.
We, as denizens of the Information Age, approach the idea of the divine with a different agenda and perspective than our ancestors.
Possibly even with a perspective that was never even contemplated by them.
When story is paramount, proof is rarely even secondary.
Any belief system that espouses the concept that we struggle with evil because of some metaphysical tempter also contribtes to the stripping away of inherent goodness.
We have never needed an outside force to prompt us to act in self-interested ways.
We do a good enough job of that on our own.
The attempt to dislocate the worst of ourselves onto some abstraction of evil only prevents us from taking steps to right the underlying issues that give rise to our darkness.
That being said, by also abdicating the good that we do to only acts of divinity robs us of the best of ourselves.
By saying we do not illuminate light, but only reflect it, we deny our innate spark and smother our inherent goodness.
Why is it that we attempt to deny our darkness and refuse to believe we are capable of emitting light?
The Challenge of Not Being Needed
In October of 2018 I took a month-long sabbatical--an entire month. It was the culmination of a decade of work starting with beginning law school in 2008. We had grown the firm from two practitioners, with modest goals of providing legal services to our local community, to six attorneys and a dozen support staff manning three offices, serving twenty-four counties, and providing services as specialized as landowner advocacy for energy issues to simple “I-Love-You” wills for couples.
The years of growth had taken their toll on me personally, and it was starting to creep into my family, my leadership, and my professionalism. Nobody taught me how to run a business in law school, so I made a lot of mistakes and missteps along the way. Each of which I took on very personally, because of course I had to figure this out on my own—didn’t I?
The best decision I made was to start recruiting and investing in an operations team. Since that decision, I have found an amazing team of people who are, without exaggerating, the most talented group of people I have every worked with. Inside each of their areas they have outstripped my skills and abilities so much so that I often have to ask them to speak slowly and use small words--that isn’t as much of a joke as I might hope. Having this amazing operations team and an equally talent practice team had an unexpected consequence.
If you have started your business from scratch, you know all too well the mentality that “it is all reliant on me.” Once ingrained, that belief is a hard one to shake. For me, it was hard to shake even after my team began to outperform me in their subject areas. The reality began to set in that, they are way better than me at what they are doing— and, to put a point on it, they don’t need me in the same way they did before.
This is supposed to be the climax of successful team building. The point at which your team begins to run on their own without you being right there by their side. For me it was an identity crisis and the beginning of a re-adjustment period—and not an altogether pleasant one. My greatest fear when I left for sabbatical was that I would return and find out that the firm doesn’t need me anymore.
I started to think, maybe my job had been to set them up and turn them loose. Maybe it was time to find something else to startup. After all, that would require the least amount of personal growth from me—to leave and stay in my safe place of starting things and building teams.
Not to be redundant, but the greatest discovery from my time away was that the firm doesn’t need me the same way it did before. In fact, I needed to get out of the way of their success. It is both humbling and exciting for me to have come back to a team that had one of our best October’s ever, which led into a 5 month run of record breaking months. The best thing I could have done was remove myself for a brief period of time to allow the team to be what I designed it to be—without my constant “meddling.”
That raised a new challenge. The challenge of not being needed in the same way in which I had operated for years. Do I leave and start again, or do I embrace growth into what it needs be to be now—the place where my strengths generate the most ROI for the firm. I had to grow beyond what I had been doing into a new set of responsibilities and value generating propositions. My responsibilities shifted from day to day operations to maintaining the vision, values, great purpose, and mission of the firm. From project execution to project management. From doing to empowering. From generating to originating.
Building a team is a path to obsolescence.
That is, making the responsibilities and duties that you carry right now obsolete, because you have a team of people doing it better than you could ever had. But it is also a personal and professional challenge for you to step up into what is next for you. What can you do that you didn’t have time for before? How can you bring greater value by leveraging your reputation and experience in new ways? How can you develop your strengths into super powers that start making an impact not just on your clients and customers, but your community, region, state, and beyond?
The challenge of building a team can lead you to the challenge of not being needed in the same way you have been before—if you are willing to get out of your own and your team’s way. My hope for you in building your team is that you someday find yourself in the position of asking, “What’s next?” And when you do, give me a call, we can commiserate over you success.
Investing in Your Team
The story goes that a CEO and CFO were discussing the future of their company.
The CFO said to a CEO, “Can we afford to invest in our people?”
The CEO responded, “Can we afford not to?”
The CFO says, “What happens if we invest in our people and they leave us?”
The CEO replied, “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”
Anyone who has built a team knows that finding the right people is just the first step. As Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great and Gino Wickman reiterated in Traction, the next step is to get the right people in the right seats.
By this time, I am assuming you are at least interested in understanding your strengths, so you now know, or have a good guess, which seat you need to sit in to bring the most value to your business. If you know where you are sitting, then you know what seats are empty. Finding the team members to fill those seats is the first challenge. The second is making sure you have them in the right seats, so they generate the most return on your investment—and on theirs.
People hired just to fill a seat will end up being in the way and slowing down our progress. A well vetted team member put in the right seat can take us places we haven’t even imagined yet.
Investing in our team will mirror much of our personal journey to identifying our strengths and seating ourselves in the position in our business where we are generating the most ROI for our time and energy. The following are some additional ideas:
A well invested in team can take us to the next level of success and satisfaction. If we invest in our team and keep putting people in the right seats, we are going to find that while our business is doing more than ever before, we may be doing less. This may result in a unique situation of asking, “What do I do next?”
Building Your Team & Lending Your Reputation
For the sake of discussion, let us say that you have accepted that you have built a business that needs more than your set of strengths. And that you have focused on what you do better than anyone else. If so, then you should easily be able to outline the responsibilities that are aligned with your strengths, and the responsibilities that are not. Armed with that knowledge, the following are steps for building the team that will take care of the areas outside of your focus:
Let’s use a law firm as an example:
Using the “2018 Legal Trends Report” as a template, up to 5.6 hours a day is being spent by attorneys away from revenue generating practice.
If an attorneys practice is where her strengths are, then that is a lot of time working on things that she is not great at.
5.6 hours over a 20-work day month equals 112 hours. If she is billing at only $150 per hour and she could utilize just 56 of those 112 hours towards working on billable matters, that is a loss of $8,400 in billable time during that 20-day period or just over $100,000 for the year.
That is a lot of lost opportunity.
Eventually all of that “dedication” took it tolls. I ended up tired, angry, and tired (if you’ve been there, you know that feeling). I asked the question, “what if instead of giving my all my life and energy to the firm, I built something that sustained my life as I wanted to live it?” That was the question that started me on the journey of building my team.
It is easier to allow ourselves to be run by our businesses, than to tame the beast and run our businesses. Answering the question of what you really want for yourself personally has value beyond a dollar figure.
You can start with some of your team being virtual or independent contractors—just make sure to comply with all of your industries ethical and privacy concerns. You can budget their time, avoid increased fixed overhead, and even pass on the cost to your consumers.
Some of your team may need to be in-house, to create stability in your work process or consumer relationships. Just be aware of all of the fixed costs you will incur and be smart about putting your team in a position that is aligned with their strengths, so they generate the greatest return on invest for your business.
Regardless of how you proceed, make sure you can pay for your team through your current revenue stream, then grow your revenue through the extra time you now have.
If you aren’t experienced in the vetting and hiring processes, you will find yourself gaining experience in the firing process.
Having someone filter a pool of applicants for you will save you time, keep you from making an emotional decision, and provide an extra layer of scrutiny of your potential team member.
Plus a headhunter who works for you can help you structure a competitive compensation package that will help you find individuals who are already skilled—reducing your training time.
If you are hiring a contractor take the time to call all of their references and check out all of the comments on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. This is your business, be confident in who you are inviting into it.
Training time is another reason why you want to get someone who is experienced in the hiring process. There is nothing more frustrating than training new team members over and over again for the same position because the previous person wasn’t a good fit.
* * *
I recently had a conversation with an attorney looking to grow her practice. One of the issues she has is that while she had a great reputation as a litigator, she was increasingly less and less happy with having to go to court. She found it draining and that it took time away from the things that were most important to her.
She had put in the time and built a reputation that was driving more work to her, but more work inevitably meant more time in court. I sympathized - as a negotiator and transactional attorney, going to court is not my jam. For her the issue was not one of litigation being outside of her competencies, but that it was something that was not bringing her personal satisfaction. So much so, she was contemplating unbundling her services so she would not have to go to court anymore.
I recommended that she evaluate hiring an associate that is energized by being in court. While she might find going to court draining, there are attorneys that find it invigorating--I know, I am shocked by that too. She is in a great position where she can now leverage her time and experience by lending her reputation and clout to an associate that is energized in an area that she is not anymore.
By bringing in someone with complementary strengths, she is focusing on where she has the greatest impact, generates the greatest value, and derives the most satisfaction. She is also providing the client with someone energized by their matter at every step in the case and creating capacity for her to meet with the new clients her reputation was generating.
We have all built, or are building, a reputation that is garnering respect and, most importantly, new clients and customers. Continuing to build your business will mean finding people you can trust to lend your reputation to whose strengths are complimentary to yours.
As crazy as it sounds, there are people who get excited about everything from reconciliation of bank statements, to review of medical records, to negotiating the particulars of deals, to standing up in front of the court arguing with opposing counsel. You don’t have to be everyman or everywoman to your business. You just need to be the one focused on pushing that domino, bicycle, fly wheel from a place of strength.
When it comes to investing in a team, sometimes the cost is monetary, and the benefit is peace of mind. So, when it comes to investing in your team, the question is, can you afford not to?
Stop Pulling–Start Pushing
What happens when you realize that you have built something that requires more expertise than you have?
Usually anxiety happens.
And anxiety leads us into a trap of believing that if we just try harder for longer, we will figure it out. After all, isn’t that how we made this far? Just trying harder. Inevitability we find ourselves exerting a tremendous amount of energy trying to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Pulling on our own bootstraps is a fight we can’t win.
So, I propose a redirection of all that energy towards understanding what you can do better than anyone else.
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, in their book The One Thing, explore the power of understanding how and where to focus our energies to make the greatest impact. They use the example of increasingly larger dominoes. Take two and half minutes to check out Stephen Morris’ video demonstrating what Keller and Papason wrote about (https://youtu.be/y97rBdSYbkg).
In short, you can push on a wafer thin domino, a fraction of an inch square, and twenty-nine dominos later, if each is only 1.5x bigger than the one in front of it, you have knocked down a domino the size of the Empire State Building.
Let’s dwell on that for just a second.
By investing our time intentionally in the effort to understand where we need to push, we can exert less effort and have a greater impact than trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The One Thing is an easy read and a great place to start on this journey of understanding strengths, weaknesses, skills, and abilities.
After accepting that your greatest benefit to what you have created is to apply your energies where you will get the greatest return on that investment (ROI), you need to dig deeper to find and define your strengths and weaknesses. I cannot over recommend Strength Finders 2.0 from Gallop Press and Tim Rath. Also a very easy to read book that has profound implications.
Understanding your natural strengths as an owner and leader will identify quickly where you are lacking. For example, my top 5 strengths are Ideation, Strategic, Input, Futuristic, and Connectedness. I have learned to embrace those core strengths. I also have acknowledged some of my weaknesses, like Harmony, Competition, and Discipline, are necessary for leading a successful business.
I could just say, “I need to work harder to turn my weaknesses into strengths and be a well-rounded person.” And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with striving to be well rounded. But that is a journey of lifetime that our businesses cannot wait for us to complete. Instead of throwing all our energy towards our weaknesses, we can redirect our energy and invest it where we can generate the greatest amount of ROI.
Using another physics example, take the gears on a bike. The point of having gears on a bike is to create the ability to adjust the return on energy input from our legs, to the petals, to the gears, thru the chain, to the wheels. By adjusting up and down through the gears we can ensure that we are getting as much ROI for our energy as possible. At too low a gear, we are pushing harder than we need to and expending energy we will need later. At too high a gear, we are pedaling fast but not getting the maximum amount of return per push. Understanding our strengths is comparable to being able to dial in the gears on our bike. We can adjust the gears of our business, based on the financial terrain, to maximize the ROI for our energy spent moving our business down the road.
Instead of trying to pedal faster or harder to make up for our weaknesses, we need to know where we need to push to generate the greatest ROI and find others to invest their time and energy in the areas where they are strongest. There are people who are amazing where we are lacking. Finding them and adding them to our teams is a much greater use of our time and resources than trying to become mediocre at doing something we weren’t good at to begin with.
Take time to read Jim Collins Good to Great. Collins uses the example of a fly wheel (if, like I didn’t, you don’t know what a fly wheel is, checkout the following video for a simple explanation https://youtu.be/7K4W4hA6aV4). Collins proposition is that if we are willing to focus our energy on moving forward the thing(s) we are best at, both personally and as a business, we will get the greatest ROI.
Whether it is a domino, bicycle, or flywheel, there are numerous examples of how the most important journey we will embark on is the one where we invest in discovering how we can apply our strengths to a focused area that will generate the greatest impact and ROI for our time and energy.
We can choose to expend our energy pulling on our own bootstraps—usually out of some sense that we have to do it all by ourselves. If we do, our business will never be more than what we have to offer, and our ROI will be limited to our own strengths and limited by our own weaknesses. Or we can choose to start pushing from a position of our greatest strengths, setting our domino, bicycle, flywheel, business in motion and potentially changing the course of our careers.
Anyway, if you are going to exert all that energy, why not put it in a direction that can create change and foster success. Knowing your strengths will let you know the kind of strengths you need to find to supplement your business strategy.
Image Credit: Gary Keller and Jay Papasan authors of The One Thing and Jim Collins author of Good to Great.