Chapter 4 – Management, the Inescapable Part of Any Business

Despite our best efforts, there is simply no way to avoid managing our business.  I know this seems obvious, but to lots of business owners I have worked with, when we really get down to the root causes of their most prickly business problems, the most common problem is a lack of management.

Most people are born not wanting to boss people around.  They would rather just have everyone get along and not have to be perceived as the “bad guy”.  With a business, though, this attitude can be disastrous.  Despite our wanting things to be otherwise, our role as the business owner is to run our business.  We are ultimately responsible for everything that happens.  And although being the one at the top can be pretty lonely, this is the lot we have chosen.

As business owners, we have to accept the fact that we will spend more time working on running our business than on our product or service.  In fact, for most business owners, the time you spend on your product or service is usually only a fraction of your work hours.  There are so many other demands on your shoulders, from customer issues to employee problems to bill paying to ordering, and on and on.  We have to realize that our business is more than our product or service, and thus we need to accept the fact that we are responsible for our whole business, not just the parts we care most deeply about.

Most management problems present themselves as the frustrating parts of running our business.  Have an employee that drives you nuts?  You need better management.  Have a process that takes way too much time?  The process needs better management.  Have an office culture that is cold and unappreciative?  You guessed it, your culture needs better management.

Like I mentioned earlier, no one is born knowing how to run a business, and management is really more about leadership than task-mastery.  In fact, I graduated with a college degree in business management, and I did not know the first thing about how to truly run a business.

There is hope, though.  Like most things, management problems can almost be automatically improved simply by deciding to do something about them.  That is, most management problems do not come from bad management, they come from no management.  Most management “fires” have been smoldering for a long, long time waiting for you to notice.  And, as “the boss”, no one is going to tell you to pay attention to the areas of the business you would much rather ignore.  As such, it is up to you to recognize these issues and do something about them.  Take responsibility for all of the areas of your business.  Because, after all, you really only have two choices.  Either you can choose to manage your business, or you can choose to have the business manage you.

Now, there are a million books written on management, and it is not my intent to teach a Management 101 class here.  Mostly I do not intend to do this because I don’t think it would do any good.  Management is a contextual art, one that must be tailored to the exact environment it is applied to.  There is no one size fits all management style (well, there is not one that would work anyway), so it is up to you to identify your problems and find the best tools to fix them.

Perhaps the most valuable thing you can do, though, is learn to trust your instincts.  Many business owners develop a “golden gut” that helps guide their decision-making process.  Business can sometimes be so confusing, often with seemingly a million different ways you could go.  And, often, the best guidance you can get is from your own gut-instincts.  Often, you, as the business owner, can sense problems before they become obvious to anyone else.  Learn to trust these instincts and do something about them.

Now, this is not to say you should be impulsive, radically changing course whenever you get a bad feeling.  You see, the thing about feelings is that they are generally broad-brush cues as to what you should do.  As such, use feelings of unease as a sign that you need to pause.  Acting immediately on these feelings can cause errors in judgment, since you did not really take the time to fully understand what the feeling was telling you.   When faced with a difficult, uncertain decision, often the best thing you can do is simply pause a bit and really examine all of the pieces of what you are doing.  Often, these pauses will not only give you far greater clarity, but will also make the situations far easier to deal with.  Time often has a unique ability to soften situations, and it is up to us to let time do its work.

In addition to learning to develop and trust your instincts, it is critical to look back at your management decisions every now and then.  With so many decisions, it can be easy to forget about them once the situation has passed.  However, if we don’t look back at the outcomes of our decisions, we lose the opportunity to learn from them.  We lose the opportunity to see if our decisions actually accomplished what we wanted.  We also lose the opportunity to see, in hindsight, if there was an easier solution available that we would have discovered if we had just looked a little longer.

It is amazing to me how many businesses make the same bad decisions over and over again.  It is almost like they get themselves moving so fast that they never give themselves the time to actually see if they are accomplishing what they set out to.  If this is your situation, I would ask you if moving that fast, leaping from one crisis to another is really necessary.  If it is, then I would guess that your business has bigger problems than just the crises you face.  Learn to look back every now and then.  It will not only make you a better decision maker in the future, it will also allow you to truly know what is going on in your business.