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Profiles in Ownership

Unsurprisingly, no one impacts the long-term potential of a small business like the owner. After all, the owner is likely the one who had the original vision, hustled to make it all happen when no one believed or no one was paying attention and is probably still the one who cares the most. The owner is the one who stayed up late – sometimes by choice and sometimes because she couldn’t help it – and worked on and thought about the success of the business. The company has naturally taken on the personality of the owner as it has grown from a start-up into a viable, marketable, business.

Once this occurs and the company is ready to transition from a start-up into a more mature organization the owner is forced to confront new realities. What will be his identity in this new chapter? Does he have the skillset to run an organization? Does she have the desire to run the organization or are her passions in product development or some other area? Does she have key leaders she can trust to take over functions of the business necessary to scale up? The answers to these kinds of questions produce different kinds of owners. Let’s look at three of those ownership styles: the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Owner, the Secret Owner, and the Smorgasbord Owner.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder Owner

The Shoulder-to-Shoulder Owner is the one who loves the work. They are involved in company operations 40+ hours per week and continue to execute critical functions of the company. They have the ability and desire to grow into the CEO role. This is not to say that they do not hire other key leaders. They know what they can bring to the table and are confident enough to hire others who can compensate for their executive weaknesses. This also does not mean they are in their office 8 hours a day. Oftentimes these owners have established relationships that make their value greater networking outside of the office.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder Owners are still very much a part of the company and work alongside the employees on a regular basis. While the owner will necessarily have to shift the focus of their efforts as the company grows, there are still key areas of the company that depend on his contribution. For this reason, he is regularly available to collaborate and coordinate with his employees. As the balance of his time draws him outside the organization, communication becomes more critical so the other employees can reach him when necessary.

Secret Owner

The Secret Owner is the owner who owns the company but is never around. He may own several businesses that he manages or even have another career. The key for the secret owner is to be completely uninvolved in the daily operations of the company. While she should check in regularly and require updates and reports from her CEO and/or key leaders, the company does not depend on her to operate. Indeed, some may not even know who she is!

The Secret Owner is adept at removing themselves from daily functions of the company to the extent possible and hiring skilled managers and leaders to replace them. They understand the paradigm shift that the company must make in order for it to be less dependent on the owner for the more common daily functions of the organization. These owners help the organization adjust by simultaneously removing themselves from these processes and entrusting others to manage them. This allows them the fluidity to manage their other affairs or even transition into more of an ambassador role for the organization.

Smorgasbord Owner

The Smorgasbord Owner is the owner who is neither shoulder-to-shoulder nor secret. She desires to have the schedule fluidity of the secret owner but also the daily impact of the shoulder-to-shoulder owner. She views her organization like a smorgasbord of activity that she can interact with at will without consideration for context or organizational rhythm. The Smorgasbord Owner often has not been able to come to grips with the necessary shift in her own identity as her company has grown. This owner profile is often the result of not making any decision more than an intentional effort on the part of the owner himself.

The Smorgasbord Owner unintentionally wreaks havoc on his organization. Because he has been unable to turn over key functions to other managers he is still highly involved in organizational operation. And since he is still critical to daily operations, those operations grind to a halt when he is out of the office or unavailable for his input. These same operations try to continue when he is out of the office but he often second-guesses decisions made by others because he doesn’t have all of the information due to his absence – necessary or otherwise.

Know Thyself

So what is an owner to do? Fortunately, the answers are available once you have come to an understanding of what kind of owner you want to be. Consider which profile best describes you and begin to take the necessary steps to be the owner that you need to be for your organization.

Smorgasbord Owner

1. Recognize the confusion and inefficiency caused by this ownership style.

2. Have an honest conversation with yourself and key people in your life about what kind of owner you want to be.

3. Become either a Shoulder-to-Shoulder Owner or a Secret Owner and take the necessary actions to support this decision.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder Owner

1. Determine where you bring the most value to the company.

2. Hire other competent leaders to manage the tasks you used to do.

3. Be available – in person and in communication – for those aspects that only you can do.

Secret Owner

1. Remove yourself from the daily operations of the company.

2. Hire other competent leaders – including a CEO – to manage company operations.

3. Be available to company leadership for overall direction.

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