The #1 Lesson I’ve Learnt from 17 Years as a Business Owner

Knowing everything is unlikely. Knowing who to surround myself with is essential.

A few months ago, I was reading an article that resonated with me more than any other I have ever read in the leadership space. It was literally as if someone had looked at my career, used it as a test case and spoke to me personally throughout the article.  It discussed the notion of ‘The Incomplete Leader’ and suggested that most leaders are incomplete meaning that many leaders hold themselves to standards that physically and mentally cannot be attained. I most certainly would have put my hand up as guilty of this distorted thinking once upon a time as I am sure many of the Business Owners & Leaders in my network might. In particular, the phrase that stood out to me was this:  

No one person could possibly stay on top of everything. But the myth of the complete leader (and the attendant fear of appearing incompetent) makes many executives try to do just that.”

(‘In praise of the Incomplete Leader’, Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda J. Orlikowski, Peter M. Senge, Harvard Business Review)  

The concept struck me as being so obvious it was pure genius. It was in this moment I realised that this is something that I have learnt time and time again over the years! Once upon a time I felt I had to “be seen to be” competent and on top of everything. This was most definitely an affliction I had suffered for many years and the real progress to push myself out of this debilitating mindset only came at a point in my career whereby I began surrounding myself with the right people. That is, when I finally started creating the right connections.

This led me to confirm the most important lesson I have learnt in 17 years of business ownership:   

The right connection can make all the difference!  

It started with me meeting my now business partner Glenn Chaffey and then continued on as we started building our Exclaim Team. Being surrounded with ‘the right connections’ began to show me that trying to cover all the ground, control all functions and consistently fear looking incompetent in front of others was nothing short of ridiculous and not productive to myself or my business in the slightest.   

Interestingly, the mindset I once had is not something unique to myself. As a business we go on over 200 client meetings per month and this is something we consistently see in a broad spectrum of leaders and their associated leadership styles. Many of these leaders are effective and get short term results. However we also see these leaders putting themselves under unhealthy amounts of pressure with unrealistic expectations.   

Many of the organisations that thrive and grow in today’s economy have leaders who are secure in the knowledge that they do not know everything and don’t need to be good at everything. They recognise that as long as they have the right team and talent around them working towards the singular vision and mission of the business then they will succeed. We all hear a lot about Steve Jobs, however would Apple be as successful without the design skills of Jony Ive? Jony designed the iPhone, MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, Mac mini, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, Apple Watch, and iOS….. just a few minor things! Would Walt Disney have been as successful without his brother, partner and co-founder Roy Disney’s business management and financial acumen? Probably not.  

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