Multi-Disciplined: Why the Best Entrepreneurs Can Wear Many Hats
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Entrepreneurship isn’t a singular job. It’s actually better seen (and thought of) as an amalgamation of different jobs. You oversee a number of different departments as your organization grows, and you take care of duties ranging from the very large (securing venture funding) to the very small (paying your office water bill).
Generally, the fewer people you have working for you, the more “hats” you wear. For example, if you can’t afford a financial advisor or accountant, you're the one to keep track of your company’s finances on top of all your other responsibilities.
Some entrepreneurs find this boring or irritating: They got into business to make decisions and come up with broad strategies, not to get involved with other roles and departments outside their range of experience. But in fact the best entrepreneurs are the ones who thrive in this multidisciplinary, demanding, multi-hatted role.
A marker of adaptability
First, think about what it takes to try on a “hat” that wasn’t intended for you. Imagine a designer who steps in to help solve an accounting problem, or an account manager who gets a glimpse of an engineer’s daily routine. These are unfamiliar worlds, and in order to survive there, you have to think on your feet.
You also have to be open to new experiences, humble enough to recognize that you’re out of your element and quick enough to catch the mistakes you may not even realize you’re making. In a sense, transitioning among disciplines makes you skilled at adaptability, which as you probably know is an indispensable quality for entrepreneurs.
Things can and will change quickly for your business, so any experience you have in rapidly adapting to new scenarios is going to help.
A difference in perspective
One of the biggest responsibilities any entrepreneur faces is making decisions on behalf of the company. These decisions often have heavy consequences, and extend to multiple areas. For example, decidiing whether to release a new consumer product may put extra pressure on engineering. But that same decision may give the sales team extra opportunities for add-on sales and edge out a new competitor who’s threatening your line of business.
Jumping into many different roles in your business gives you a more personal perspective on how those varied roles function. The more perspective you get on what different teams do, the more thoroughly you’ll be able to think about the ramifications of your decisions, and the better decisions you’ll be able to make.
A willingness to confront risk
Entrepreneurship means facing risks, day in and day out. Just starting a business is a risk in itself, but each decision you make and each new strategy you adopt will form new risks you’ll have to overcome.
Performing in roles you aren’t familiar with helps acclimate you to this more advanced risk level. You’ll be jumping in with no knowledge, no training and no experience, yet you’ll be performing responsibilities similar to those of your employees who possess all three. Getting used to this high-pressure, unknown environment will make it easier for you to willingly take calculated risks at a higher level in your organization.
An appreciation for individual teams
Don’t underestimate the human element of your team. Your account managers may serve a vital, gear-like role in your organization, but they’re also people with thoughts, feelings and complex relationships (with others on your team).
Performing separate roles will help you understand and empathize with what it’s like to be that person (at least to a certain degree). This has its benefits: For example, when you step in to help manage the marketing strategy, you might learn some of the pressures marketing faces from other departments, making you more sympathetic and more aware of potential issues that may arise. This may someday aid in conflict resolution and crisis aversion.
Drawing the line
Unfortunately, it’s not in your or the company’s best interest to alternate among jobs for the foreseeable future of your company’s growth. There’s a point where your adopted responsibilities will start to interfere with your abilities to lead the company from a higher level.
When you reach that point, it’s on you to make a new hire, delegate some of those responsibilities or define clearer boundaries in what you’re capable of and willing to do. Unfortunately, this point is different for everyone, and there’s no way to tell when you’ve hit it, other than to rely on your gut feelings.
The next time you’re offered the chance to take on some smaller responsibility unrelated to yours, don’t be afraid to take it. It’s a practice in adaptability, risk, perspective and teamwork. And even if you later choose to delegate that responsibility, your course of time in having doine it will help you become a better entrepreneur.
So, try on as many hats as you can, and learn from the experience.