If the hat fits….

When I launched my first business venture in my late 30’s, I wanted to be the best International Event Manager in my field. I wanted to run superb, memorable events that people were clamouring to attend. I was clear about the hat I wanted to wear; I knew it fitted and suited me and that I felt good in it.

I did not anticipate the many other hats that came with running a business and I certainly had not anticipated the need to wear many of them at the same time. I was overwhelmed by the expectation that I would willingly wear them, having never so much as tried them for size or made a choice about colour or style. Indeed many of the hats were ones I had consciously avoided and had been only too pleased to leave behind on the hat stand for someone else to wear.

When a business starts to grow, the hat we chose spends less and less time on our head each day. The joy we had in creating something and delivering it with pride to a client is overshadowed by the constant demands that we serve our business needs and not just those of our customers. We have to “work on our business not in our business” investing time in planning for the future and creating a legacy. With every success it is easy to be moved further away from the very passion that inspired the business to be born.

I think it helps to be clear about our identity and how we see ourselves. I remember speaking at a networking group several years ago, and I referred to “sole traders” as being self employed people and not businesses. A member of the audience took offence at what I said and asked me “what’s wrong with being a sole trader? Not everyone wants to build an empire you know”. My answer to him was that I had not explained myself clearly – there was nothing wrong with being a sole-trader, far from this. To have recognised your core strength and deliver that to clients with focus and passion was a gift. A conscious decision not to work on your business, but to work in it. Clearly the right decision for him as he was highly successful.

This conversation gave me clarity with several of my clients at that time (and since) as they struggled to wear the entrepreneur hat, which did not fit them and would never feel comfortable. They had left behind their real passions in order to build a business and lost touch with the thing that drove them and kept them engaged and inspired. They believed success meant wearing all the hats regardless of whether they had the skills, or the inclination, to do so effectively. Many of them did not see the possibility of others wearing some of the hats.

The successful entrepreneurs among my clients were happily trying the hats on for size and then actively seeking out the right people to wear them. They worked hard at building relationships and making connections with people who had the skills that they lacked. They were happy to pass the hats around and spend time in the hat they had selected for themselves from the beginning. They trusted those around them and took risks with the hats when it was called for. And they knew their strength lay in wearing one hat.

The main reason people give me for wearing all the hats is that the business isn’t ready for them to take someone on yet. “I would happily pass over that hat if we had more business coming in” “I would love to give that to someone else to do, but I know they’d need my input so it’s quicker to do it myself.” What I hear is that they are not ready to hand over the hat. They haven’t yet got the people they trust around them; or perhaps they didn’t give the people around them a chance to try on the hats.

One team I worked with in 2009 was a business that had started with three friends and had now grown to a team of 19. The three founders were wearing all the hats and were, not surprisingly, frustrated with their results and lack of team engagement. We purchased a hat stand and the team placed all the hats on the stand – between them the three men were taking 12 hats away from the team. For one month, each had to wear just one hat a day, and the rest of the team shared the remaining hats between them. The results were significant and the hat-stand remains to this day.

Try taking a couple of hats off and hanging them out on your hat stand. Let others know they can try them on for size without commitment or fear of failure. If the hat fits – wear it and if it doesn’t then take it off and share it.

I originally wrote this blog for virgin.com as one of their featured VIBs (very Important Bloggers). 

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