For any founder of a growing, entrepreneurial business, there will come a time to face the necessary, albeit challenging, process of allowing the business to run without their input.
In many of these cases, success to date will have been underpinned by a founder’s personal, impassioned belief or mission. But the reality is, this means that founders are dangerously integral to their business – no organisation should be solely reliant on one person.
Instead, as a business moves from start-up through its growth period, the importance of a founder or CEO looking beyond the day to day increases and so the need to have strong directors that can lead the business to even greater success becomes ever more crucial.
This process of ‘stepping back’ is fraught with difficulty for all parties involved, in the case that things go badly, the real casualty will be the business itself. But, with time invested in building trust and in developing senior talent, the process can be a positive one, and it can unlock new opportunities for business growth.
Over a number of years of working closely with entrepreneurs through The Supper Club, I have been privy to thousands of conversations about this particular challenge of introducing and developing directors.
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Our members know that the directors in a business are one of its most vital assets. For example, a founder might be the very best salesperson for their business, but they may fall short when it comes to managing a team effectively, or implementing creative ideas.
Founders rely on their directors to manage the day to day often better than they often could, but many don’t know if they are getting the most out of them.
It can all too often be assumed that directors don’t have the same entrepreneurial passion for the business as the founder, or that the values and culture that were so ingrained in the earliest days will become diluted under someone else’s watch.
But the reality is that it isn’t always easy working for a passionate entrepreneur. The saying goes that entrepreneurship is a lonely game but what isn’t so commonly appreciated is how tough it can be working under the founder of an entrepreneurial business!
A director’s role is varied and challenging – they are often fighting a battle to introduce process and order into a dynamic, changeable environment and have the interesting job of managing an entrepreneur and their ideas. Useful directors are not there to be ‘yes men’ (or women) – they are there to challenge and develop ideas, manage the team, hit targets, maintain the values of the business and to keep driving the business forward.
Simply put, both parties have a responsibility to make it work. Solutions to these challenges won’t come without a change in mindset, or time invested from both the founders and directors themselves.
Many of the existing members of The Supper Club, all of whom are founders or CEOs, have recognised these issues and approached us to request that we provide a peer-learning and development environment for their directors.
We have responded by creating The Director’s Club, an intense programme of activity that offers directors the opportunity to think more entrepreneurially and discuss the challenges they face within the business with other directors.
So what are they looking for? Good directors already see it as their responsibility to reinstate the company’s vision and values at every opportunity, and use these to underpin a growth strategy for the business. They should be concerned with profitability, risk and people, with reaching yearly and three yearly targets, not just their own, but for the business as a whole.
But these are skills that don’t come pre-programmed. In taking some time away from the day job, to step back and look at their role within the business as a whole, directors will gain confidence and begin to work on the business not just in it.
Of course, this is a two-way process and a founder has to understand the challenges directors face and relinquish control in order to allow this to happen, offering them the development time and opportunity to grow.
Given this guidance and opportunity, a director can provide a solid grounding for business growth, and a sustainable future for the business. I have yet to meet an entrepreneur that wouldn’t be happy with that.