Let’s assume for a second that being an adult of my age, owning a business, and being able to my bills and save is one definition of success. I had to get that out of the way because I am always suspect of my own ego, and I need to call myself successful for today’s blog post.
I owe my success to getting stupid. Being traditional-smart (the book/trade type) is rarely what it takes to run a successful business. Given our own primary client demographic of IT services firms, more than 80% of our clients are/were brilliant technical minds, with that something extra to make them give up a paycheck for entrepreneurial life. A challenge many of these recovering technicians face is getting bogged down in the details of technology. This becomes more and more apparent as the size of their team increases. There are just too many technical details to worry about, and these duties must be delegated with trust, or the owner is going to go crazy.
Looking at it from the opposite end, I’ve found that our clients that come in the most well put together, are all run my non-technicians. They had no choice but to hire talented technicians to do the work while they ran the business. In fact, that is why they are the most prone to seek out advice from experts. They are willing to be or act stupid and learn from everyone around them. That sounds far from actually being stupid. It may seem difficult, but for that business to work at all, it has to be run like a business (not a technical job) from day one. They more or less took the pain early to have faster and longer success.
I had a journey from technician to owner (and all the steps in-between) that also mirrored this advice. As my business grew, I was only on employee number three before I started to realize I had to get stupid. Clients were resistant to new talent, despite being even smarter and faster than me. I had to start making statements like “Oh, Tim is really good at that, let me get him on that” despite knowing that I could figure it out. When I joined a 13 person team as Service Manager in Savannah, GA, I was actually able to completely hide the fact that I knew how to be a technician. We were a solid three years in before I had to use my hidden talent to prove to a technician that the clients terminal server speed issue wasn’t “hopeless.” Fortunately, I had already asserted myself as the kind of manager that works with processes, metrics, and people, over a simple technical escalation point. That company doubled in four years.
If you ever find yourself struggling under too many priorities, take a look at the list and see how many of those items are the tech that you have other people for. Start playing dumb and see who picks up the mantle be the best technician. I think your team may surprise you. If your team doesn’t surprise you in a positive way, ask yourself if you have a people problem or have failed to set expectations (typically through your behavior).
Do you have examples of how your smarts got in your way?