Letting go isn't easy.
And why should it be? If you're an entrepreneur, you've probably worked as hard on your business as anything else in your entire life. If you've put all that work in and start to get to the payoff, why would you want to give any of that up?
The answer is often a painful one for successful entrepreneurs who become the CEO of a growing enterprise: Starting a business and growing one are two very different things. While you may have had the hustle and moxie to launch a business, it doesn't mean you're the best person to scale it.
I've lived this journey and taken my fair share of hits along the way. As I moved from small-time entrepreneur to CEO of a large company, there have been times when I wasn't sure if I was the right person for the job. However, the mistakes I've made along the way have taught me that there's a huge amount of value in failure.
Here are the three failures that made me the CEO I am today.
1. Waiting too long to set the purpose values and mission
It's a funny thing when your company begins to grow rapidly and you hire many people in a short period of time. It turns out those people don't always get along like you hoped--and that's putting it lightly.
I realized I made a big mistake around the time we got to 60 or 70 employees. Because I hadn't clearly defined our purpose, values and mission during the hiring process. We hired poorly and ran into a slew of people problems. In fact, problems with one employee in particular really opened my eyes to the importance of this. The employee was constantly in conflicts with others, and it created a toxic work situation for many. Ironically, this person was calling for us to establish our core values. Sadly, it turned out the values that myself and the other founders had did not align with this employee's.
It's critical to articulate the values and purpose while the business is still young. It ensures that people know what they are getting into, and it helps you repel the wrong people.
2. Not letting my leaders lead
This one speaks directly to the problem of many CEOs not being able to "let go," and I was definitely an offender.
For so long I had direct oversight of revenue, and I had an awfully hard time giving up that responsibility. I hired a very smart person to take the job, and then I proceeded to deprive him of the ownership and responsibility he needed to be successful. That created a scenario of micromanagement that limited his growth and it held the whole company back. On top of that, it was wasteful and stressed relationships.
To avoid the mistake I made, hire capable people and clearly communicate to them the responsibility you expect them to carry. It's important to spell out exactly what you expect. I learned that the fastest way to know whether you can trust someone, is to trust someone. Let them go and see what happens. More times than not you'll be impressed.
3. Not listening to my gut
Entrepreneurs are magnets for advice, and what you do with that advice could have a big impact on your business. People starting companies always get unsolicited advice from friends and family who claim to know more about your business than you do. On top of that, there are countless experts and books telling you about every aspect of business. Each one will be more than happy to shout their opinion at you and treat it as gospel.
The mistake I made early on was that I listened too much to outside advice, and not enough to my gut. I learned that a huge amount of advice that any entrepreneur receives should be taken with a grain of salt.
Advice can only get you so far. At the end of the day it's your company and your money on the line. The buck stops with you, so trust your gut.
If you haven't thought critically about the things holding you back as a CEO, take some time to honestly reflect on your failures. You may have moved on from those failures long ago, but the lessons you learned from them should guide you as you move forward as a leader looking to grow a business.