“That’s weird,” I thought, looking at the coffee machine warming up. “I hope it’s not broken.”
An early riser, I get to the office about 6:30 every day. Almost invariably, I’m the one who turns on the coffee machine and gets to wait the seemingly interminable 30 seconds for it to warm up.
“You here early or staying late from last night?” asked a guy, obviously returning to make use of the machine he’d turned on.
“Oh, I’m an early bird,” I said. “What about you?”
“I’m an early and a late bird,” he said. “I’m in at 6 and out at 7 (PM) if I’m lucky.”
From there, we had a five-minute “get to know your office mate” conversation, during which Gary, let’s call him, treated me to an extremely impressive online demo of his company’s services.
“I guess the tough part is getting customers to agree on your price,” I asked. “This stuff can’t be cheap.”
“Not really,” he said, “it’s not too bad.”
“So it’s a question of just getting exposure to potential clients,” I asked, probing for the greatest challenge the company he recently co-founded was facing.
“Nope,” he said, “the customers are beating down our door.”
“So it’s a question of growing your team to satisfy the demand,” I asked, hoping I wasn’t coming across as Debbie Downer.
“Bingo,” he said, rattling off all the employees and freelancers who’d recently been added to his team.
“So now it’s about management,” I said/asked.
“Right, and that’s my job,” he said with a laugh, indicating it certainly wasn’t his favorite part of that job.
His response was my first sign that his company might be in for significant trouble, for when someone in a position of management finds managing the least appealing part of their job, to quote from Al Pachino’s character in Carlito’s Way, “You in trouble baby, you in trouble.”
My second sign of trouble came in the form of an actual sign, one posted exactly where the eyes of someone sitting across his desk would fall. He must have seen me trying to read it.
“Oh, that,” he said looking behind him. “When they come in here and start chewing my ear off, I show them this sign.”
Though I read it slowly — and certainly remember the final phrase indicating the reader should “Shut the [email protected]$* Up,” — I couldn’t exactly make out the meaning.
“What does that I mean?” I had to ask.
“It means we’ve all got a lot to do, including me, so they should figure things out for themselves,” he answered.
At this point, the refrain from a popular radio song, which my 2-year old has taken to singing, echoed in my mind: “Trouble, trouble, trouble.”
Just as a car cannot run without gas, and a building cannot stand without a strong foundation, so a business cannot scale or grow without effective and inspiring leadership; for only with such leadership will the right people be selected to join the team and the totality of their talents elicited. Rather than the beauty of servant leadership, my new friend was fueling his growing company on thin gruel of “you’re on your own.” Perhaps that makes for clever posters, but certainly not a passionate team.
In his well-known book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber accurately pointed out that many small businesses are not founded by “entrepreneurs” (in this sense of those who like to build businesses, infrastructure and all), but simply people who want to do the job they love, only unencumbered. But if you are going to found a business, you had better get comfortable with infrastructure and management, for without those who ignore either do so at great peril.
My new friend seems, unfortunately, to be a victim of Gerber’s E-Myth, doing the work he loves while eschewing those responsibilities he finds distasteful. But if someone does not handle them, he won’t be able to do that work for very long. If you are one such accidental leader, promoted for your core skills into a position where management must now be among them, fear not. We at healthsystemCIO.com are focused on helping you learn the right way to inspire your workforce, with the first lesson, perhaps, being that to inspire and empower is a core element of your job. To that end, there are many things that you should do, and you can read our columns and attend our Webinars to learn more about them, but for this column, suffice it to say that telling a team member, through word or print, to “shut the F$%^ up” isn’t one of them.