In 2009 Lyric Turner left Washington, D.C., to move to Denver with her husband and his new career. She hired a contractor to shut down her modest $180,000 a year real estate staging company, Red House Staging. But instead it started to grow. Six years later, Red House Staging is a multi-million dollar, fast-growing business, and Lyric has started two more remote businesses in D.C., both of which were profitable in their first month. How?
Lyric had stumbled onto the most important lesson business owners and founders could ever learn, but rarely do. It took moving 2,000 miles for Lyric to figure it out--stop managing and get out of the way.
With the contractor handling the day to day, for the first time in years, she had time to actually act like a leader. She planned, talked to customers, and thought about how the business should run. Instead of dying, three months into the planned shutdown there was enough money to pay the contractor to stay on. Neither of them believed it would last, but they thought it made sense to ride the wave until it subsided. It never did. Lyric had learned that to build a successful business, she had to stop acting like an Industrial Age manager and become a leader, two very different things.
"Hanging Pictures & Driving Trucks"
Lyric admits, "If I was living there, six years later I'd still be hanging pictures and driving trucks, and the business would never have taken off. Leaving D. C. was the best thing that ever happened to my business." Lyric was forced to stop managing and start leading. And it worked out incredibly well. It is now the largest and most well respected staging company in the D.C. area. And all of this without any managers or the daily presence of the founder.
With Red House Staging growing exponentially, Lyric had a third baby last fall and started two more businesses, both in D.C. - Suite Exclusive, a furniture rental company, and Hudson & Crane, a high-end retail furniture store. Suite Exclusives is already the most profitable of the three companies and Hudson & Crane, run very creatively by co-founder Jaye Langmaid (who started at Red House), has already been voted Top 3 Best Places to Buy Home Furnishings by Best of DC.
The Secret Sauce
Lyric shares her secret. "Without fail, every single person, who learns I have three businesses in D.C. says, 'You must have a really great manager!' But I don't. No one person is in charge of anyone else. I have really great self-managed people who make it work, not me. They run the three companies and love doing it. I don't ever see needing to hire management staff to oversee the people or the companies. We'll just all continue to grow together."
Lyric goes back to D. C. for a total of six weeks a year. She loves being there, but admits, "When I'm here, I get pulled right back into doing things that are not the best use of my time. I'm hyper-aware that living in Denver and not D.C. is at the top of the list of reasons why this works. I joke with other CEOs all the time about it, but the principle is clear; even if you can't move 2,000 miles away, you need to get out of the way and let people blossom."
Bill Gore, founder of W. L. Gore made this a core principle in his company of 10,000 Stakeholders, and wrote a paper in 1967 on it, titled, "The Lattice Organization". It is core reading for anyone wanting to stop commanding and controlling. Gore built his large corporation around the same "get out of the way" principle embraced by Lyric, and his global company didn't need managers, either.
All For One, One For All
Jaye shed light on the effectiveness of their self-managed teams, "There is a real absence of ego here. We'll correct each other right away. Nobody's feelings get hurt and no one storms out of the room. The reason this works is nobody gets offended, we just focus on being successful together and everybody is wide open to receiving help to make sure that happens." People who can't function as a team and receive constructive input don't make it through the three-month probation.
Getting Off The Treadmill and Getting a Life
"The overarching theme is more time with my family. Even with the two new startups I walk my kids to school and home, and I'm home with my baby at least two weekdays every week, and we travel often. We went to Mexico recently and I never checked email.
What advice does she have for the owner or founder who feels like a hostage to their business. "To me it's a mentality and a value system--why would I take this on if it wasn't going to give back to me and help me do something that matters? I get to have these amazing businesses and have a sense of ownership, but they don't own me. I'm not on a treadmill."
The lesson is clear. None of us are as important as we think we are. If you can't move 2,000 miles away, do anything else you can to make room for people to grow. Stop managing (making decisions), and start leading (ask questions) then get out of the way.