Parenting Your Business: The Role of Humility in Leadership

“My business is like my baby.”

The analogy is common among business owners and founders – and it is understandable. You “conceive” the idea for a business. Then you “give birth” to the business. You nurture it so that it “grows.” And, like a baby, your business demands incredible time, effort, resources, attention, and sacrifice.

This is all fine and well and good … until it’s not.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: owners and founders can feel a deep need to protect and control their business “baby.” Consequently, they may fail to give their leadership team members appropriate responsibility and authority within and for the business.

This can play out in many ways, such as:

  • A leadership team member wants to try new ideas, make changes, or pursue opportunities and the owner/founder consistently vetoes the proposed actions. The vetoes are not because the proposals are unsound, but because they did not originate with the owner/founder or do not fit the owner’s/founder’s plans.
  • Leadership team meetings are characterized by stress, conflict, and distrust. Everyone knows that at any moment the owner/founder may play the “it’s my business” trump card.
  • The owner/founder places high value on compliance: the leadership team exists to carry out the owner’s/founder’s vision and strategies, not to participate in creating the company’s vision and strategy.
  • The leadership team is frequently running at less than full strength because great members leave to join companies where they will have more responsibility and authority.

You can already see how such situations invariably inhibit the growth of a business. By failing to “let go” and let others fulfill leadership roles, an owner/founder effectively stifles innovation, trust, collaboration, and a host of other elements crucial to business health.

The antidote is clear, though it is not necessarily easy. It is, in a single word, humility.

If you are an owner or founder of a business, have the humility to acknowledge that you can’t do it all. You have done a great job of building a business. In fact, you have built it to the point that it has outgrown what you can do on your own. That is an accomplishment to be proud of! Now, pair that pride with humility and admit that bringing the business to the next level will require a team effort.

One of the practical ways to demonstrate humility is to recognize, affirm, and support your leadership team’s ideas and approaches. Obviously, this is not saying that every suggestion should be adopted. Vigorously vet recommendations that would affect the entire business, but do it as a team. Then, give your wholehearted “yes” to great ideas, regardless of who they originated with. Your team members will feel validated and will reciprocate by generating even more great ideas that will further strengthen your business.

A tough aspect of demonstrating humility is to let your leadership team members lead their various functional areas. In other words, give up control and give them autonomy. Don’t be the corporate equivalent of a “hover mother” watching over every word and action. If you have the right people in the right seats, there is no reason not to trust them. If you don’t have the right people, then make the necessary changes until you do.

At its core, humility is about treating others as you want to be treated – the Golden Rule. You value responsibility and autonomy. You value having control and making decisions. You value generating ideas and seeing them come to fruition. Give these same opportunities to the members of your leadership team.

Approaching your company and leadership team with humility does not mean that you have any less value or importance to the business. Your skills and strengths remain the same. In fact, by modifying your role and your relationship toward the business to embrace a true team mindset and culture, your skills and strengths will become even more powerful. You will be focusing your expertise like a laser on the aspects of the business that are truly your responsibility as an owner or founder, rather than scattering your efforts across the business and diluting your effectiveness and the effectiveness of others.

Your business will always be your baby. Never doubt that. But, just like a parent, your greatest accomplishment will be seeing your baby grow to full maturity. That requires the humility to step back from doing it all, to step in to a new role, and to step up to work as a team. You can do it!

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