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Who’s in charge here? Featured

9:43am EDT July 22, 2002

Owning your own business is as American as apple pie. It conjures up images of independence and freedom to make decisions based upon your agenda, potential wealth and creative expression.

In the early stages, the owner is caught up in the excitement of developing a company. As the business expands, however, owners may find themselves feeling out of control, owned by the business. How can you tell when ownership has shifted from the person to the process, when the owner has gone from being proactive to reactive?

I recently helped a client who was beginning to experience this. His goal was to expand his business, but he realized it was necessary to delegate parts of his job. As he became more involved in the operations and administrative duties of the business, it was taking time away from what he really wanted to do: service his clients and expand his business.

When this happens, the owner is out of balance. Owners are consumed by their business, mentally, physically and emotionally. They’re no longer doing what they wanted to do when they founded the business. The energy to build it has diminished, often replaced by a growing resentment. Somewhere along the road, they lost their identity and accorded it to the company.

A major component in re-establishing ownership is assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the owner in relation to the vision of the company. As the owner regains a sense of balance and establishes goals on which to measure progress, the company’s infrastructure can be viewed more proactively.

The first thing I did with this client was request that he evaluate his strongest abilities and those things he most enjoyed doing. He readily recognized it was necessary to relinquish the operational elements of the business that were not his forte.

Based upon the vision for this growing company, we evaluated job descriptions and determined that a new position was necessary to align with the client’s decision to delegate key functions. This would allow him to spend more time with existing clients and expand the client base — his ultimate objective. This type of strategic planning helps ensure that the firm is going in a single direction and that major decisions support the overall vision of the company.

The second strategy was to design an administrative system to ensure the highest possible standards required in my client’s regulated profession and to provide excellent customer service. This also reflected the objective of expanding his client base by providing value-added services beyond the industry standard.

With these factors addressed, my client hired a person we both believed fit the bill.

One would assume the owner achieved a sense of balance and recaptured much of his original enthusiasm. As in all businesses, however, conditions can rapidly alter the best of intentions, goals and plans. Within a few weeks, another challenge arose.

The newly hired, capable and competent staff person was quickly becoming overwhelmed with her responsibilities. This proved to be a crucial turning point. The formerly reactive owner could have easily reverted to old habits, jumped in and taken over tasks that had been delegated to this position. The new, proactive owner, however, stuck to what he did best and supported the person by asking me to coach her through a challenging transition.

Working with the vision the owner established, the staff person and I established priorities and goals.

We went back to developing strategies and planning, building a solid foundation for the business owner to regain control of the business.

Will defining objectives, planning strategies and setting goals ensure success? There is no guarantee, but coaching the owner to redirect energy back to himself has greatly increased the odds.

Nancy S. Duffee is a professional coach with Integrated Solutions in Central Ohio. She can be reached at (740) 965-1121 or NSDCoach@aol.com.