Why some bosses should get out of their own way

Business owners usually reach out to us for help during times of stress. They wake up one day and realise that they’ve created a monster that, while financially successful, is rapidly destroying their personal life. Think outrageous working hours, damaged relationships, no leisure time, self-medication, and lots of stress.

One of the most challenging parts of installing properly structured management systems in a hospitality business is changing the behaviour of the owners. Imagine it, you’re given a brief to restructure a business and the first task is to deal with the questionable conduct of the very person who’s paying you for help. Regularly showing up late to appointments, not showing up at all, or failing to respond to email communications within an acceptable timeframe are at the mild end of the spectrum. Publicly abusing an employee while inebriated is at the more extreme end of destructive behaviours I’ve become aware of throughout my career. Most people recognise that any of those behaviours, if demonstrated by an employee, would see them hauled into a counselling meeting and given a stern warning, if not dismissed in more extreme cases. Unfortunately, the culprits don’t see it that way until it’s assertively brought to their attention either by a consultant like me or a fearless employee who’s willing to eyeball the boss and say: “that’s not OK”.

The primary issue with an undisciplined business owner is that their behaviour sets the standard for what is acceptable throughout the whole organisation. In other words, if they continue to behave like a loose unit while they are in charge, they won’t see a very high level of discipline or work performance from any of their employees.

The obsessiveness and desire of a small business owner to stamp their personality on everything prohibits them from delegating authority, accountability, and responsibility to their employees. They give tasks rather than responsibilities because they don’t trust that anything will be done right. This model might work while the owner is present, but it falls apart from lack of direction when they’re not around. The result is that the owner works unconscionable hours to keep it all running smoothly, while their personal life steadily deteriorates.

A business can grow beyond the owner’s ability to run it quite rapidly. The attributes and skills necessary to start and run a small business are vastly different to those necessary to manage one much larger. Characteristics that are needed to start a business such as passion, tenacity, creativity, obsession, strength of character and single-mindedness can get in the way when you’re trying to create a management structure below you so you can get off the tools and let go. The core of the issue lies in the belief that it’s easier to keep diving in all the time because you know it will be done right if you do it yourself. This is the attitude of the benevolent small business dictator.

Making the transition from running a small business dictatorship to a properly structured company requires the owner to accept change – particularly in relation to their own role. Over the years I’ve had several owners tell me a version of: “I want you to fix my business, but don’t change anything”. My response is to remind them that if they don’t change their direction, they’ll end up where they’re headed.

Those who grasp the key concepts of effective leadership communication, staff recruitment and training can grow their business to the point where it’s possible to get off the tools and enjoy the spoils of what they worked hard to build. If you want to talk about evolving your hospitality business or putting it under management, get in touch.

Chris Lambert