There are the goals you set in business, and then there are the realities of accomplishing them.
You set your sights on an objective--what it actually looks like along the way can be a whole other element. Every entrepreneur aims for business growth and many attain it.
What happens between those two points is a business climb few expect, or know how to handle. There is a range of unfamiliar, unplanned twists and turns, issues you uncover, lessons you wish you knew beforehand--and those you remember after.
The most precarious challenge is what I call The Leadership Gap. As a business goes from startup (1-4 people) to high growth (10+ people), its leadership needs to evolve, change and address new challenges. It's at this point that the entrepreneur's role evolves into something new and different.
Some entrepreneurs make the leap and others do not.
With Simple Mills, our rocket-ship growth was exciting--but transitioning from the early days of a small team went beyond the scale effort.
In the first years, I was involved in everything, from sourcing our ingredients to managing our finances to meeting with retailers to designing our packages.
And then we hired an amazing team. It's at this point where trusting team members became mandatory, and many decisions--key, important decisions--needed to be left to other people.
But your inclination as an entrepreneur is to hold tighter. After all, you've historically been a part of all of the decisions, you've been in all the sales meetings, you've negotiated all the contracts. You know the product inside and out.
A lot of entrepreneurs are afraid to let go. But hanging on can kill your scale, crush your growth, and hurt teams in ways that can be very difficult to rectify later.
I was lucky to have great advisors--and candid team members--who helped me see when I wasn't allowing senior leaders to take the wheel. They pointed to where I wasn't trusting the experienced people around me.
We had honest conversations and developed clear lines where my territory ended--and theirs began.
The attention and effort needed to bridge The Leadership Gap doesn't ever go away. There will always be places where your employees wish you'd butt out.
But, it is important to step into your new new role, a role where you're focusing on the strategy, the vision, and the risk mitigation instead of running the whole show.
It's the way to scale your business successfully, and it gives other people the chance to shine.
Growth Stages, Growth Pains
These dynamic challenges do not just occur when you scale from startup to high-growth.
A number of entrepreneurs have talked to me personally about the way their leadership had to change with every new milestone, employee and customer--from the first few to the hundreds and thousands.
I've encountered the same here. Growth phases, and the pain points that come with them, will occur throughout the entire lifespan of your business.
With an ongoing anticipation and expectation of this at Simple Mills, I know it's coming and constantly include how I intend to navigate it as I operate and plan.
Find Your Unique Way
I've heard stories from people who work for high-growth companies about entrepreneurs who fail at bridging The Leadership Gap.
There's plenty of advice about how to expand operations and structures with scale. But, you'll also need to ask yourself--and answer--how you personally want, need or feel you should approach it in your business in every aspect.
Another entrepreneur I know has a weekly meeting with each person that reports directly to him. Others hold regular open door days, where employees can come say hi, catch up and discuss ideas, issues or concerns.
Every entrepreneur and business is different, so locate the approach you want to take. As you do, equally assess and deal with your own emotions, fears, and concerns. They're normal to feel - but you can't let them get in the way.
It has helped immensely to explore and expect The Leadership Gap as my company grows, and answer what I believe I need, my business needs, and my team needs at every step.