Do Your Job

One of a series published in www.seacoastonline.com and the Portsmouth Herald business pages

There are many capable leadership coaches in our community. I am not one of them.  However, over many years of managing successful teams, large, small, local and distributed, I’ve managed to learn enough about both team dynamics and management skills to feel comfortable sharing my experience and perspectives.  Recently while was watching the latest New England Patriots dismantling of their opponent I was reminded of Coach Belichick’s oft repeated phrase, “Do your job”. Three simple words that appear now on tee shirts, inspirational posters, internet memes, even (poorly thought-through) tattoos.  To me, the phrase is shorthand for “stay focused, do what you’re supposed to do, and all will be well.”

Now, anyone who knows me at all knows what I think of inspirational posters and phrases (visit www.despair.com if you’re curious), but in this case there’s both merit in the phrase (and its variations) that are useful to anyone running a growing business, especially if you’re an owner and entrepreneur. In my last column I suggested taking some time to look yourself in the mirror and ask some important questions about business and how your operation is running.  This time, sans mirror, I want you to think about Coach Hoodie’s phrase and this variation: “Should I do your job?”

Consider the characteristics of an entrepreneur: vision, passion, relentless work ethic, an unshakable belief in the value of the product or services he or she is bringing to the world.  A mentor of mine once characterized a self-described visionary as being “not always right, but never uncertain”, and that has stayed with me.  Those same attributes that give someone a chance to be successful can also create a complicated workplace which can undermine the foundations of that potential success, but through even a modicum of self-awareness (and some trusted, knowledgeable advisers) you can create a great environment in which to work and the business to grow.

Creating that environment can be a challenge, but it’s critical to success.  You’ve got to make good hires, of course, but then you have to give those people room to Do Their Job.  Putting aside a discussion around the hiring process (which would take many columns), when you, as a business owner or entrepreneur hires someone for a function, it’s important to provide guidance and support, not to hover or interfere.  Ask yourself how often you think “it’ll be easier if I just do it myself.”?  Easier for who?  You? Better for the business? If that’s true then you should fire everyone and, indeed, do it yourself.

But that’s not really true, is it?  And it certainly doesn’t allow the business to scale. Often the biggest “concern” for an owner isn’t making sure something’s done right so much as it is the fact that it may be done differently than you’d do it.  Not better, not worse necessarily, but certainly different.  The same internal impulses that cause one person to love red and hate blue, or to adore Picasso and not like Matisse, or to crave steak and recoil in horror from sushi are the same impulses that generate a creative, additive energy in a business and should be encouraged.  Contradictory though it may seem, leadership is about letting go, not tightening a grip, and that’s something that does not come naturally to most entrepreneurs.  Having spent years in and around the venture capital, early stage company world, I can tell you first hand that investors worry most about the entrepreneur-as-CEO, and it can be a huge impediment to growth.

Often an entrepreneur will ask me how to proceed once leadership is hired for key functional roles like sales and marketing, two areas where most entrepreneurs find the most affinity.  My answer is usually the same: Do Your Job–be an evangelist.  Drive the vision for the product or services the company offers. Let the sales and marketing team use you as the celebrity you are.  Set the tone for the company culture but don’t try and make everyone a clone of you—or judge them as lacking because they’re not you.  Competence takes many forms and as long as they are doing their job and you are doing your job and you’re making sure your job isn’t the same as their job (did you follow that?) then you’ve got your best chance to succeed and grow.  You can do this.  In fact, it’s your Job!

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