Balancing Boss and Employee Roles in Small Businesses
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When the Boss is a Lunatic – and You’re the Boss

There’s nothing better than being a business owner and your own boss, right? That’s what I thought when I started my business – but then I learned. As a business owner, I work for a demanding, unsympathetic and controlling person – myself.

Balancing Boss and Employee Roles in Small Businesses

It’s understandable. Business owners, bear a lot of burden. We have to fulfill both the role of “the boss” and “the worker” – a dynamic that, if we’re not careful, can lead to frustration, inefficiency and even failure.

One of the first key elements to balancing the roles of boss and worker is to identify and understand their key distinctions.

Boss (Working on the business)

Worker (Working in the business)
Maximize utilizationMaximize satisfaction
Long-term focusShort-term focus
Firm successClient success

When in “boss” mode, you focus on establishing your business and maximizing profit. You have to develop and maintain your products and build upon a long-term vision and strategy. Yet, in “worker” mode, your focus must shift from the business to the customer or client. Delivering services and products and ensuring total satisfaction drives your day. The short-term outlook of business overshadows the long-term goals.

Accomplishing these tasks is difficult enough for several people, let alone one person. Trying to successfully integrate these traits and maintain a successful business can quickly turn the business owner into a lunatic – a lunatic boss you have no choice but to work for!

You even may find yourself saying, “Can’t the boss see I’m already driving 500 miles a month to see clients? Where are the hours supposed to come from to finish this project? Don’t even get started on his deadlines – he’s crazy.” But, at the same time, you know the “boss” is right. The boss’ priorities are critical to your success and the success of the business.

Don’t get caught in this dichotomy of internal conflicts and become your own worst enemy. Here are some practical tips for becoming more effective at working, monitoring and managing.

Hire a Boss

Even bosses need a boss. Business owners need someone to help maintain their focus on the long-term vision and strategy for the business, and more importantly, take them to task. Accountability and objectivity enable success.

Consider “renting a boss” by calling on the help of a business coach or advisor. I was listening to an attorney talk about a recent visit to court when he used the aphorism, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” He was reflecting on the power of objectivity. An outside perspective makes it easier to diagnose problems, identify when something is wrong and determine a change of direction is necessary.

Or, you could partner with another business and “boss” each other around, like a Mastermind Group (See resources below for more info). This system allows you and other businesses to evaluate one another and provide guidance to each other. You capitalize on the objectivity of an outside perspective while at the same time, networking and expanding your resources.

Whatever the method, ensuring accountability and objectivity is vital. Institute regular meeting times and mandate consistent attendance. Establish concrete, measurable goals and the tasks necessary to meet those goals.

Create an Advisory Board

An advisory board is similar to the board of directors for a public company, but it doesn’t have any decision-making authority; it’s just there to “advise” the business owner.

Typically, an advisory board will consist of three to six people whom you respect and who have something of value to add to your business planning. Your board might include your professional advisors (attorney, accountant, etc.) and other business owners. Incorporating an individual successful in your same business arena but from a different market is ideal.

Advisory boards generally meet in person about once a quarter. The business owner lays out his/her plans for the year and quarter, and reviews the business’ performance from the previous quarter. The board then reviews the plans, assesses the performance and offers feedback and assistance. This allows the board to take on the boss tasks of opening up your horizons to the longer term trends of your business or trends outside your business that may affect you. You also get a bunch of smart, talented people thinking about your business and cheering for your success; an outcome that both the boss and the worker can cheer about.

Create a “Report Routine”

Reports offer a method for measuring and monitoring progress. If you want to improve your consistency and performance in certain areas of your business, create a report to document your progress. Then, send the report to someone who understands your business, its goals, and its measures. Ask for objective feedback and suggestions.

Empower the person receiving the report to ask for it if it doesn’t come when scheduled. Also, ensure they have the objectivity to tell you how it is, whether good or bad. Knowing someone will ask you about your performance and take you to task on it may be enough to keep you on track and “boss” you.

Ultimately, as the business grows, you can hire employees to handle the business tasks and work with clients. Separating the “boss” and “worker” is the ideal and most effective solution. But, unless you’re successful on your own, you may never get rid of the lunatic boss.

Photo credit: Evil Erin

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