There’s no question that a successful business owner knows his or her business better than anyone else. And as a consequence, there’s no one better to help a successor learn the business. But there are potentially several problems that occur when an owner is the only one to help a successor develop.
The first issue pertains to leadership. Learning the mechanics of a business doesn’t really help hone leadership skills. Although people generally do respect a leader’s knowledge and technical skills, that degree of respect only goes so far.
For people to fully trust and respect a leader, that leader needs to earn that trust and respect. Trust and respect aren’t automatically given because of someone’s title.
In order for a leader to earn trust, he or she needs to demonstrate that they have integrity. In other words, they do what they say they’re going to do and are the kind of person they claim to be. And, in order for a leader to earn respect, he or she needs to treat people with respect in both word and action. For example, a leader needs to treat people like people rather than like things. And they need to treat adults like adults instead of like children.
The second issue pertains to strategic thinking. Knowing how to do things really well simply means a successor has mastered the mechanics – the systems and tactics – of the business. If they don’t learn to think strategically, then several things tend to happen.
One result of not thinking strategically is that improvements will tend to be small, resulting in only modest gains. A second consequence is that a successor will tend to develop tactics that they feel are “strategies”. This also produces results that are mediocre. But the third consequence is the one that is most detrimental. They will develop strategies to address symptoms rather than underlying problems. The result of addressing symptoms instead of problems is that it almost always creates more challenges that cause a decline in revenues and profits.
The third issue pertains to blind spots. If a successor only gets guidance from an owner, they tend to end up with “group think” along with the blind spots that accompany it. Group think is what happens when people think “this is the way we do it around here”. The problem with having blind spots is that a successor can’t see what he or she is missing. Regardless of experience, intelligence or education, we all have these blind spots.
Typically, the only way to eliminate blind spots is to get outside perspective. Someone needs to point them out to us. If we don’t get past our blind spots, we miss opportunities and make poor decisions.
The solution to improving leadership competence, enhancing strategic thinking and eliminating blind spots is to have an unbiased sounding board. Someone who can offer outside perspective and help develop the needed competencies.