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.