How can I become a better owner?

Dear Ken Keller,

I was amused a few weeks back when an owner wrote to you about watching reality shows on TV and what he learned from them.

But it got me thinking that I need to become a better owner. I’ve become complacent; the business is doing well and I take more time off than I should.

No one at the company is complaining of course, but I know if I want to take my business to the “next level” than I need to start working on myself first. The question is what steps should I take and that is why I am writing to you. —Geoff L.

Dear Geoff:

The first step you need to take is to understand that the best leaders lead by setting an example for their followers to emulate.

You mentioned that you take a lot of time off. On one hand, you may say you have worked hard for so many years and you deserve it. Many owners feel that way.

On the other hand, what does your company’s employee handbook say about vacation time? Assuming you are an employee of your company, are you following the vacation policy that governs all employees? If you are you are leading by example. If you are not, you are violating the very policy you agreed to and signed off on as the owner and as an employee. That is not setting a good example and don’t think for a moment that your employees don’t recognize it.

The same is true for how you dress and act; what time you arrive for work in the morning, what time you depart at the end of the day. Employees notice all these things and make judgments accordingly.

The second step is that you need to learn what you don’t know but need to know. While every owner has a set of strengths, they also have weaknesses or blind spots in business management.

As an example, owners who have a talent for sales and new business development don’t usually have financial management skills or operational expertise. So they hire others to take care of those areas, when in fact the owner needs to know more than enough to just get by. The owner needs to understand how the whole business works, so they can make better decisions about running it.

My advice is to spend time with other owners who have “been there and done that” so you can avoid expensive mistakes in the areas of business you are not totally comfortable with.

No one will care more about your business than you do and your goal should to become a better leader means that you need to expand your areas of expertise so that you can ask focused questions about what is taking place on a daily basis that can impact, both positively and negatively, how things are running.

I keep coming back to Captain Smith of the Titanic, who received ice berg warnings, read them and put them into his coat pocket, never asking questions to determine what it might mean to the passengers and crew members he was responsible for.

The third step is you need to set an example as a leader who learns, and you need to challenge your managers, supervisors and the rest of your employees to continue their own education in business. Continuing education should be a action item for every employee and you will need to jump start the process.

You can do this by setting up a library, signing employees up for webinars, bringing in speakers for brown bag lunches, purchasing and passing along executive book summaries, enrolling your employees in Employment Training Programs (ETP), cross training your employees in the various job functions and having every employee who attends a seminar do a write-up and presentation to his or her peers sharing what they learned.

I hope this advice has been helpful and I wish you well on your journey.