Have you ever been to a soccer game in which the players were five and six years old? If so, you might have noticed some similarities to many businesses. In fact, you might have noticed a pattern that could explain why your business isn’t growing.

 

At the start of the game, all the players are set in their positions – just where the coaches told them to play. How well they understand their assignments may be another matter, but at least they know where to stand.

 

 

Then the ball is kicked off. At this point, all focus on positions and assignments is lost, and every single one of those small children manically runs after the ball until a goal is scored or a timeout is called.

 

 

Then everything resets, and the exact same thing happens again.

 

 

Now you may say, well of course, they’re five and six years old. I know, and that’s a pretty decent excuse for them. But how do we explain the same behavior from many companies, especially the companies’ leaders?

 

 

Many corporate leaders approach to their businesses is remarkably like that group of five-and-six-year-old soccer players, in this sense: They know their roles and they know what they’re supposed to be doing every day, but they can’t stay disciplined enough to stay in that rhythm and get it done.

 

 

In other words, they can’t stay in the mode of working on their businesses because they keep getting sucked into working in their businesses.

 

 

This is not my original concept of course, and much of my thinking here was influenced by the wonderful book The E-Myth, along with its follow-up, The E-Myth Revisited. You will recognize the phenomenon I’m talking about. The leader should be thinking, strategizing, building bridges, communicating a vision. In other words, the leader should be leading.

 

 

But once the day starts, the leader gets sucked into every little thing going on within the business. An issue arises with a customer, and the CEO is right there. An attractive RFP arrives, and the CEO dives in. A scheduling challenge comes up, and the CEO is front-and-center addressing it.

 

 

It can be so many things. Continually stopping your work and answering e-mails. Jumping in to address a supply issue. You knew you were supposed to focus on leadership-type issues, but dang it, the day just got away from you.

 

 

Just like the next day will.

 

 

And it’s not just CEOs. Much of upper management can fall into the same trap. How many problems have arisen within your company that result in the CFO, the CIO and the HR director all right there, getting hands-on with whatever it is?

 

 

How many brains does it really take to solve these problems? Aren’t there already people whose job it is to do this? Don’t you have confidence in those people? Then let them do it.

 

 

But corporate leaders can’t keep their hands off this because they’re addicted to execution. It’s understandable on a certain level, because good business leaders love what their companies do, and they love being part of it. And yes, there’s some leadership benefit to remaining close to the company’s day-to-day functions.

 

 

Employees do respect a leader who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty to help get the job done.

 

 

But more than that, employees respect a leader who leads.

 

 

Someone has to provide the vision and the direction, and if you’re too busy doing what you’re paying them to do, who is going to provide that vision and direction?

 

Your employees do appreciate the help on the little things, but not as much as they appreciate your strong and solid leadership.

 

 

I face this challenge too. This morning, I was trying to finish up an offering we call Red Wagon in a Box, which is a set of tools any business can use to help them grow. And the e-mails kept coming. I had to keep telling myself: The e-mails can wait. Finish Red Wagon in a Box.

 

 

Because I like the execution too. But my job is to lead.

 

 

And when the leader is able to focus on leading, the benefits are compelling and tangible. They start with growth.

 

 

When the leaders are setting things up to position the company for growth, it allows all that hard work the rest of the team is doing to pay off. The leader has to be figuring that out.

 

 

Another benefit is a high-functioning culture. You’ll avoid things like system breakdowns, missed deadlines and botched assignments, because the leader has conceived the system that allows all this to work, and has empowered other leaders to work that system effectively every day.

 

 

It’s counterintuitive for some leaders, because they think the way to achieve a high-functioning environment is to keep their hands on everything all the time. It’s not. It’s for them to provide solid leadership and allow their team to work the plan.

 

 

Can you do this? There’s always some emergency you could jump on. There’s always some work you could insist on reviewing. There’s always some reason you could run down the hall to the printer with your hair on fire.

 

 

But you’re not working on your business when you do that. And that’s what your team really needs you to do. They can handle the blocking and tackling. But you need to show them the way to the end zone.

 

 

Even five-and-six-year-olds know the object of the game. They’re undisciplined, but they know when they’ve scored. Stop chasing after the ball all the time and show your team the way. Work on your business, not in it.

 

Written By: Wade Wyant

Red Wagon Advisors & West Michigan Scaling Up Coach