Initially, being an entrepreneur means being in control of every aspect of your business. However, when the ask is high and it is time to grow and level up, many founders and entrepreneurs have a difficult time letting their emerging leaders drive the vehicle.
This is a point of organizational evolution that if stifled, can create a bottleneck on the road to growth. But, if it is embraced, it can strengthen and position the business to handle more needs and deliver better results.
At this point we must give ourselves more room for the high-level strategic planning for our business and for the development of our own leadership knowledge. Simultaneously, we must acquiesce to the space our emerging leaders need in order to flex their leadership skills and develop their own strategies.
This letting go can feel like standing at the edge of a bridge with a harness on, hoping that the bungee cord brings you back safely.
Josh Usher, co-founder of MistyWest, had a difficult time doing just this, until he did something that most of us would not imagine doing. To learn more about how Josh handled this change, Bruce Holoubek, owner of Contracted Leadership, and Host of The Development Exponent Podcast talks to Josh about his experience and where it brought him today.
Josh has a long standing commitment to creating a positive impact, including a Master’s in Clean Energy Engineering from UBC and building Australia's first vehicle-to-grid electric car; all before co-founding MistyWest, an impact focused research and engineering consultancy on the West Coast.
His vision of maximizing his team’s productivity and creativity, along with his passion for solving hard problems spring him out of bed every morning. Josh is a firm believer that for organizations to compete, they have to focus on creating great corporate culture.
Like other founders on the precipice of growth, Josh was having a hard time letting go of the wheel and allowing his emerging leaders to develop until finally he had enough of his own fear.
Josh identified four emerging leaders in his organization who wanted to take on more responsibility and handed them the keys to everything. He told them that he was leaving for a few months (which had eventually turned into seven) and told them to try to not call him. He wasn’t going to be checking his emails either.
This was the ultimate disattachment.
In the back of his mind he knew he was risking the business, but he believed that they could handle things. He showed them absolute trust.
During this seven-month sabbatical Josh dove in to develop his own leadership skills by reading over 20 books, watching TED Talks, and listening to podcasts on the subject. When he came back, he came back as a smarter leader-- but he also came back to a team that had really leveled up. In fact, he was surprised to come back to a different organization. It was a positive and vibrant change, though frankly, his team of leaders was exhausted and glad to have him back.
He had given them all of his trust, including the bank accounts to the business, and they didn’t let him down. Josh and his key team players were able to cultivate a mutually meaningful work environment and learn several important lessons.
For Josh, It was a lesson in trusting others. “Most organizations have great people, yet most organizations don't trust their people enough. Without experimentation there is no growth.”
A mutually meaningful work environment is one where a person can have:
Autonomy-- the ability to direct your daily tasks and your career path.
Mastery-- the ability to learn something to the point that you believe you have it.
Wholeness-- the ability to be your whole self at work, that you can show up vulnerable yet remain safe.
Purpose-- feeling like you are here for reasons that you care about, and you agree with the direction that your organization is going.
Maintaining a mutually meaningful work environment is best done through presence and observation. The open office plan is loved and hated, depending on whom you ask, but it is a direct way to observe the culture that is living in the company. Here are five indicators of healthy culture to observe:
Ritual-- Look for people who have become close enough that here are patterns in their behavior for how they act together. Small groups will develop their own rituals.
Laughter-- Is there an occasional outburst of laughter? Can we be lighthearted enough?
Focus-- We want to see people who are so lost and immersed in their work that they lose track of time.
Debate-- Do people really drill into a discussion, and can they come to a consensus or conclusion or some shared learning? Look for people who are attached to the solution and not to the idea.
Individual Vulnerability-- Do you see people opening up, particularly in times of trouble? Can they answer, “How is your day?” honestly when their day is tough?
Giving up some control to let your business grow and flourish is frightening for many reasons-- but this life is not for the weak-hearted. If there are volunteers on your emerging leader team who are eager to take the challenge on, it may be best to have faith and let it go.