Becoming the Boss
But one episode in particular convinced me I'd gone too far. It involved my head dispatcher, who'd been with me from the start and had become a close friend. Our families had gone on vacation together. We'd shared many good times. I considered myself part of his family, and him part of mine.
Then I caught him stealing from me. He had access to our petty cash, and it turned out he'd been using it as his own personal piggy bank. He'd gotten away with it because I'd trusted him as a friend, and so I didn't check on him the way I should have. That hurt. Not that the amount was enough to jeopardize the company, but the emotions were just too much to deal with. Before I even confronted him, I went home and cried.
Unfortunately, it often takes an experience like that to make you aware of the perils of getting too close to your employees. Anisa may have had a similar revelation when she went through the agony of firing the salesperson who'd been with her for so long.
But meanwhile, she was also making the second common mistake of first-time entrepreneurs who suddenly find themselves in the boss's chair. She assumed that, to be a good boss, she had to become a manager. She had to do the kind of work she hated. She had to sit in an office and take care of all the little details that make a company run smoothly. I made that mistake, too, and nearly wrecked my company in the process.
"What do you like to do?" I asked her.
"I like the excitement of solving problems and building a business."
"Well, I'm the same way," I said. "And I've learned that not only am I not a good manager but I don't want to be one. I want to do what I like. So what do I do? I surround myself with anal people." Anisa laughed. "It's true," I said. "They love the detail, love the follow-up process, love writing letters, love doing all the things that you and I hate."
"You're right," she said. "I hate that stuff."
"Yes, and there's no reason you should do it," I said. "You don't have to sit in an office to be in charge of a business. Management is just another job. You wouldn't think twice about hiring an accountant to handle the books. Why should you assume that you have to be the manager? You're the best salesperson you've got. There's nothing wrong with focusing on sales. You can still give the company direction. You can still set the standards. But first you need to extricate yourself from management and turn it over to people who are good at it. Then you can go back to doing the work you enjoy."
So Anisa's next step is to look for someone to manage her business. How long it will take to find the right person is another matter. I was lucky in that regard. Remember, there was one guy from the start-up whom I didn't socialize with outside the business. He was 13 years younger than me, he lived far away, and he had a style that was very different from mine. He was a, well, maybe I should say he was detail oriented.
In any event, he's now the president of my company and my partner in the business. I love him and depend on him. Thank goodness we never became social friends.
Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur whose six businesses include a three-time Inc. 500 company. This column was coauthored by Bo Burlingham. Previous Street Smarts columns are available online at www.inc.com/keyword/streetsmarts.
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