The challenge of working on the business not just in the business

For entrepreneurs the challenge is always how to work on their business and not merely in their business. This duel role that is required of most small business owners is extremely taxing and difficult. Those that are able to grow their business and take it to the next level are invariably those who have understood the importance of working on their business.

On the businessThis insight was ‘given to me’ by a fellow passenger many years ago as we sat next to each other on a long haul flight from the United States. He was a retired consultant and was fascinated by the business model and work of TomorrowToday.  He asked lots of good questions and we chatted for quite some time. Towards the end of the conversation he offered me this insight and the moment he said it, as well as how and when he said it, ensured that it immediately resonated with me. It is a lesson that we in TomorrowToday have struggled with and have come to appreciate both the importance of doing so (working on our business) as well as the challenge it represents when one is so invested in working in the business.

Besides being of critical importance for smaller business leaders and owners it also holds true for those in leadership at large corporates. All too often the executive or senior leadership meetings are dominated by ‘in the business’ agenda items rather than ‘on the business’ agenda items. Of course the former is important but effective leadership that is able to see what is coming next and what is going to happen after what comes next, requires an ‘on your business’ type of mind-set and approach.

Burburry have recently relieved their chief designer, Christopher Bailey, of the responsibility of running the company, replacing him as CEO with Marco Gobbetti. Bailey’s duel role proved problematic and this decision by Burburry had an instant reaction in the market with their shares jumping 6%. They understood that requiring Bailey to be effective at both ‘on the business’ responsibilities as well as still deliver ‘in the business’ results was flawed. And of course Burburry has the resources to ensure both happen and so took action to ensure that it does.

Smart leaders understand the importance of working on the business leaving others to work in the business. When you have the resources to afford this split in perspective and responsibility, don’t waste it. It starts with senior leaders getting, what we refer to as, ‘on the balcony’. From the balcony the business and outside conditions can be seen differently and with this different perspective comes the ability to do things differently.

When you are sitting in your next leadership meeting ask yourself: “Is this discussion an ‘in the business’ discussion or is it an ‘on the business’ discussion?”  Watch the ratio between the ‘in’ and ‘on’ discussions and it might illuminate why you are not making the progress you know you are capable of or achieving the results that you should be achieving.

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