As an entrepreneur, one of the hardest things to do is to step back and let others run your business — even if you have handpicked, trained and set expectations for a capable management team.
In the summer of 2016, my granddaughter’s long-running medical problems took a turn for the worse. We sought out specialists and she ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a series of surgeries. As a result, I spent 35 days away from my company.
This was the first time since I founded Le Chaperon Rouge in 1982 that I was away for an extended time, and it was hard on my soul. I had spent several decades growing my company from a single daycare center in the basement of a church to a chain of 12 schools across Northeast Ohio. Until last summer, I was intimately involved in every aspect of business operations.
I admit I was — and still very much am — a control freak. I had been part of every decision: when my staff bought food to prepare for the children, when they designed curriculum and when they bought materials. I wanted to ensure everything we did for the children was done my way.
But as we expanded, the business became more complicated. And while I grew as an entrepreneur, I didn’t grow as a leader. I hired good people to be in charge of each of the schools, but I didn’t empower them. Instead, I assigned them tasks I knew they could do, and then micromanaged their work. It took a while, but eventually I realized when you do things this way, it’s an insult to your employees.
Entrepreneurs are great at seeing what’s not there and creating something from nothing to fill a gap in the marketplace, but often we have a hard time learning how to balance our time between business and family, as well as trusting others to treat our company the same way we treat it. Too often, it takes a crisis to recognize this.
The first step is trusting the people you hire to do their work. Sometimes, that is the hardest part. I used to have trouble sleeping because I was always worrying about the school. Today, I sleep better knowing my team has things under control.
I recognized the business was bigger than me, and I decided to invest in my people through better pay, more incentives and benefits and a lot more praise. The best thing I ever did was bring the management team in as a group and say to them: “This is my life now. It’s your turn.”
Before, I was the company. Now, I own a business and my team members are the company. They are much happier because they have pride in what they do and feel empowered. And my biggest takeaway was that when you give people a chance, they will surprise you. ●
Stella Moga-Kennedy is Founder and CEO at Le Chaperon Rouge.