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Entrepreneurship: The inverse relationship between Ego & Effectiveness

Those of us that had big corporate jobs and decided we were going to take that experience and build our own companies have learned many a hard lesson.

While I have many lessons learned over these six and a half years, my biggest rear view mirror moment was realizing that our company effectiveness improved the more humbled I became. We purchased an existing business with existing employees. When we started, I thought quite highly of myself. I mean really, I was a Fortune 100 executive. Running a small business should be child's play, right? Well, it is not.

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I showed up on the day of closing with my chest puffed out and excited to change everything about this business. I thought, how tough can this be? We need to build a marketing plan, ramp up our sales processes. Train employees on both skills and consistency of delivery. Upgrade/update our fleet and equipment and then evaluate our comp plans. I knew all of the answers.

What my new employees saw was a pompous jerk that they believed to be wealthy as I had just purchased the business and showed up in designer clothing for what Mike Rowe would consider a dirty job. They had fear of what was going to change and what that meant to them. And based on my ego coming in, they were right to feel that way. If I could do it all over again, I would.

For context, the business I had purchased was fire and water mitigation and restoration. I had spent nearly 15 years in the insurance industry so I believed this to be tangential to what I had been doing. But I was wrong on so many levels.

What I failed to realize is that the higher up the chain of command you go in corporate, the more support you have in the quality of your team, the shared services you receive, the credibility you are granted based on the role you have. Small businesses are organizationally flat and executive-level direct reports and shared services do not exist. Here, I came in as a new guy with zero credibility and a lot of ideas. Based on my proclaimed self-importance, I am certain my new employees wanted to see me fail. Thank goodness they didn't let me.

As the months went on, and we were struggling, I started to ask more questions than I did provide answers. I started to implement ideas that our employees had. I listened much more than I spoke. I started to be a teammate versus their boss. And wouldn't you know it, that seemed to work. We started to grow.

But I did not trust the team with everything. Anything financial related, I would not relinquish control. These folks had never managed budgets so why would I entrust them with MY money. And our growth began to stall. So I started asking more questions and looking for guidance. Wouldn't you know it, the team wanted more flexibility and autonomy. They weren't asking for the world, they wanted to be able to buy their teams lunch. Pick up supplies when they were out at a job and not seek permission. So, we set caps on what was within their control and simply monitored where and how much they spent. Those that abused the system were spoken with and some did not survive. But the ones that stayed were happier, more productive, more trusting and trustworthy.

This became our new culture. This became our new way forward. In today's world of new technology and tools, we cannot forget that service businesses are still largely reliant on human beings. And that is the way employees want to be treated. I know, the golden rule should be second nature, but it is easy to forget when your ego takes over. And ego was the biggest growth blocker in our business. When I finally realized that I did not have all of the answers and I could turn to my employees, regardless of their level, is when growth was achieved; personally and professionally.

Just a gentle reminder for all.