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Leadership Thought #432 – It’s Your Business Sandbox – Manage It Carefully

April 20, 2013

Free Miniature construction site with various equipment Stock Photo

When you own your business it is your sandbox. You get to decide who plays in it and what happens inside.  Just remember that these decisions also have consequences.   As an advisor to my clients, my role is to get them to appreciate this fact.  I’ve often watched people make decisions that I don’t agree with.   Sometimes I am right and sometimes I am wrong about what happens next.  My track record is usually rather good, but far from perfect.  I just want to make sure that these decisions are informed and well thought out.  I am fine with being pleasantly surprised by satisfactory results that I didn’t foresee or anticipate.  I learn from these situations as well – never underestimate the resolve and creativity of a committed leader.  Most importantly, I strive to ensure that these decisions are aligned with the outcomes the client is aspiring to achieve.   Success can be defined in many ways and unless there is a moral or ethical component, it is not my role to judge.

People and situations never cease to amaze me. It’s rare that someone can consistently just operate from their gut and/or avoid basic business principles and good things always transpire. Moreover, it’s amazing how many leaders have “blinders on” about their people.  You can’t fly in the face of reality for too long.   Inevitably, the lack of real thought, logic or understanding ends up catching up with you.  Some leaders do get to go a long time before this happens, but they often don’t see or choose to ignore the cracks in the foundation as they are occurring.  There is nothing sadder to me as a business advisor than to watch someone conclude one day that the vision they had for their business and themselves is no longer achievable.  Time is finite and certain mistakes become far too difficult to overcome.  Being a perpetual optimist only works if you have the necessary time to act and that the actions have some chance of working.  If you are not careful, you end up with minimal options when this happens.

Here are some big challenges I’ve seen well intentioned leaders create for themselves while managing their own sandbox:

  • Hiring and promoting family members or friends who are ill-equipped to be successful at their jobs.
  • Expecting from people what they are incapable of delivering – you can’t put in what was left out.
  • Playing the wrong employee favorites – choosing loyalty or personal compatibility over competence.
  • Being too casual with employees and degrading your leadership position as a result.
  • Surrounding yourself with “yes” men and women rather than building a management team of competent professionals who provide constructive feedback and help you avoid the dangers of “groupthink;”
  • Spending most of your leadership time on or with your problem employees rather than your superstars.
  • Making the work culture a democracy rather than a meritocracy – valuing everyone’s opinion equally.
  • Overly valuing employee tenure rather than rewarding performance.
  • Solving the hard problems for their direct reports rather than pushing them to learn to resolve these issues for themselves.
  • Letting your employees’ personal problems become your problem or becoming problems that adversely affect the running of the business.
  • Keeping/hiding bad financial results from their bank instead of bringing the matter to their attention and asking for advice/help.
  • Using debt or overly burdening the business cost structure to fund a personal lifestyle the business model cannot deliver.
  • Undercapitalizing a new business initiative (or even the business as a whole) and being under constant cash flow pressure.
  • Jumping into a new business opportunity without conducting adequate due diligence and planning first.
  • Waiting too long to adjust the existing business model to reflect new market realities.
  • Forgetting to maintain an on-going two-way feedback loop with customers – failing under the spell of “we know best what our customers need;”
  • Bringing on the wrong equity partners and/or diluting their own equity unnecessarily.
  • Waiting too long to exit an underperforming entity/idea.
  • Not having an exit/succession planning strategy aligned with your personal life objectives.
  • Not being on the same page with your spouse/partner in terms of what life balance, happiness and success looks like.

I could spend the better part of a day further populating this list, but this is what initially jumps out at me.  Yes, your business is your sandbox, but be careful about how you design it, maintain its structural integrity, who you let in, and the culture that exists within it once they get there.