From the May 2000 issue of Startups

When I first moved to New York City, I stood in midtown, looking up at the mind-boggling skyscrapers around me and thought "I'm really here. I'm in Manhattan." I had the same moment of realization over and over as I stood in the middle of my office, surrounded by a growing staff, and thought "I'm the boss. I'm really the boss."

Going from working alone in a studio apartment to being in an office with employees was not easy for me. I hadn't started my business thinking I was going to be "in charge" of other people, and although I knew what qualities I didn't like in my former bosses, I didn't know how to convey what I did like and what I wanted as the boss.

I remember offering each employee the opportunity to earn a percentage of any lead they brought to me that turned into a paying client. No one ever brought in a lead. I thought I was terrible at motivating people, but I eventually learned that not everyone is a salesperson. I also kept expecting staff members to lead large projects, but it rarely happened. I learned that many people are not leaders, often by choice. Some people just prefer having instructions and following a plan.

Which led me to another major realization. All the plans that I could see clearly in my own head were not being communicated properly to other people. So anyone who needed instruction was left without proper guidance. Human Resources consultant Mike Townshend of Career and Life Learning Systems LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, advises: "Be aware of the pitfalls of creating a team around yourself that only supports you. Each member of an effective team needs to find his or her own level of contribution that acknowledges that person's unique talents and improves the organization."

Townshend tells the tale of one client of his who hired people whose knowledge and skills were far below his own. He'd been a one-man show for a few years by then and thought "growing the business" meant hiring half a dozen people. But he hired people who were junior to him, giving them merely supporting roles. So he ended up selling, designing and doing the bulk of the bookkeeping without empowering anyone else. Not only was turnover high at his company, but his revenue failed to increase in proportion to the costs of bringing on new staff.

Scary story. Hard as it was to admit at the time, I'd created a similar situation at my company. Be it ignorance or ego, I was hiring people who weren't yet experienced enough to take charge, and I kept doing everything myself, even after they had spent time doing some of the work.

If I had known that becoming a boss would be a forced soul-searching expedition, I think I would have opted to do that searching without other people being so closely affected by the process. Eventually, I realized I needed someone else to step in and manage the staff. Finally, I was ready to loosen the tight grip I had on every creative aspect of the company.

Merrill Pierce, founder of MP Squared (Merrill Pierce, Mentoring Professionals) Enterprises Inc., a leadership coaching company in Toronto, has a few tips for any entrepreneur going through company and management growing pains. "Be clear. Communicate. Outline and manage expectations

In terms of motivating staff: "Keep them informed," says Pierce. "Include them in decision-making. Inviting ideas allows for proprietary involvement. Reward them for helping the company grow. Every human being needs to feel needed."

"A need to feel needed" struck a chord with me. While I was struggling to be boss, I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worrying that I had suddenly become a mother to a staff of 15 full-grown human beings. In a way, my subconscious mind had summed up the experience of what being a boss felt like to me. I was now responsible for the lives of others, not just my own. I was overwhelmed by it all.

In time, I learned to communicate my vision and delegate duties. I learned to trust others with decision-making power. I learned to treat my staff members as if they were my most important responsibility. And I don't think that's a bad thing.


Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books, $12, 800-726-0600). She is currently working on her next book and new company.

Contact Source

Career and Life Learning Systems LLC, www.change-management.com
MP Squared Enterprises Inc., (416) 690-4336, merrill@portofinostudios.com