Are you the COG in your company’s wheel?

When business owners need to back off in order to grow

By Emily De Voto, PhD

I was working with a company in the northeast that was a little profit machine. The business had grown steadily for the past 5 years and was recognized as an industry leader. Growth was beginning to slow down mostly because the business couldn’t handle it. The owner of the company, let’s call him Jim, had thrown his life into the business and was facing pretty extreme burnout. His burnout was manifesting as a serious case of the “fuck its.”


In case you aren’t familiar with the “fuck its,” they are totally disempowering and destructive to the growth of your business in a multitude of ways. They usually start when a business owner/leader begins to resent the time and effort they have been putting into the company. This usually appears after years of growth, when the head of the company has been entrenched in all aspects of the business. Balance with the rest of their life has been out of whack for some time, which was sustainable when the business growth had been exciting. Once growth has leveled off, they are frustrated, pissed off, entitled and done.

The “fuck its” are preventable, but for Jim it was too late. He was already in up to his waist. He was hot and cold with the business. He took himself offline for days at a time, returning for a crisis (that he usually created.) His team was totally disempowered. They didn’t know how he would show up each day or if he even would show up. Their escalated customer issues went unanswered and their systems were falling apart. And their boss was angry and rogue.

Jim thought the solution to his problems would be to hire a right-hand man, let’s call him Bill. Bill was a sharp attorney and a natural leader. Jim had the right idea in hiring Bill but fell down on the most important key issue. Jim was in no way ready to hand over the management of the company. He wanted to continue to be involved in everything (including filing systems) – which is what caused his burnout to begin with.

Jim, our engines are failing

This is when I came in to the picture. I worked with Bill and the office team to create systems and structures that supported their responsibilities. We created new systems with an eye on growth. They felt empowered and ready for growth. They were committed.

Jim was on board…until he wasn’t. If one mistake was made or something wasn’t done to his liking, he began micro-managing everything again. And his micro-managing style wasn’t remotely nice.

Most of my work “on this company” was actually with the head, Jim. His emotional state was killing his business. It took time for him to build and nurture a trusting relationship with Bill. At the same time, Bill was working directly with the office team and developing his relationship as their leader. Jim and Bill worked together to develop flash reports that would allow Jim to be out of the office doing client visits (the thing he still loved to do,) while being kept totally abreast of everything a the office. Together Jim and Bill were able to grow the business. Jim was able to spend time forging new strategic relationships for growth and Bill lead the home team to keep up with the growth.

GROWTH INSIGHT: As a business owner, you must understand that while your leadership, involvement and oversight got you to where you are today, it may not be what your company needs to grow in the future. As your business grows it’s important to ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I really good at?
  • What do I love doing?
  • What part of the business do I hate or burns me out?
  • How attached am I to be involved in every little decision?
  • Where is my time and energy best spent in terms of helping the company grow?
  • Are the systems and structures that we originally created still what we need?
  • Who do we have on the team – or do we need to hire – to take on key aspects of growth?
  • What systems/reporting can I put in place that will tell me what I need to know from an owner perspective and will free up more of me and my team’s time?


This, of course, is just a start, but hopefully, it will give you some insight into growth!

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