“I want employees who think like an owner.” I typically hear this from small business owners, but sometimes from managers, and I don’t fully understand it. There seems to be a myth that has owners and entrepreneurs up on a pedestal. It would make sense if being a business owner meant having the perfect mindset and approach to business, but my own experience and observation suggests otherwise.
To be clear: entrepreneurs and business owners are great – I love their ingenuity and drive – but that doesn’t mean they are without flaws, blind spots, or human frailty. Being an owner doesn’t automatically create infallibility, omniscience, or even basic common sense. [Note: if you are a business owner and reading this, clearly I’m not referring to you. You’re perfect. I’m talking about some of the other business owners out there, myself included.]
So my internal cynic starts laughing: They want people who think like an owner, huh? Does that mean they want employees like some of the owners I’ve known? They want someone who…
- Insists on being involved in every decision and then is inaccessable for weeks at a time, forcing work to grind to a halt?
- Maintains a very flexible schedule insists that everyone be available at any time to discuss work?
- Takes up significant business time with personal errands? Or has an admin who spends the bulk of their time dealing with the owner’s personal errands on the company dime?
- Puts the business at risk from family squabbles?
- Can’t be bothered to learn the tactical parts of the business and invariably creates havoc every time they try to help a customer?
- Has little understanding of employment laws and doesn’t get why they aren’t allowed to do whatever they want to do just because they want to do it?
- Justifies extreme micromanaging with the thought that it’s their money and they should retain total control over it.
- Take it as a personal slight whenever an employee quits?
- Has so few people skills or such a hyper-dominant personality that they are basically unemployable and have to own their own business?
- Never realizes that not everyone is willing to sacrifice family relationships or personal interests for the business as they do?
- Inadvertently causes talented employees to go to work elsewhere because they can only get promoted so high in a family business?
- Wants people to make their own decisions, but gets upset if they aren’t theexact same decisions the owner would have made?
- Destroys trust and communication by being a little too good at being the “boss”?
- Ends arguments with, “Because it’s my business and I said so!”
- Never realize that people treat them differently solely because they are the owner?
- Gets angry at customers and thinks customers are all trying to rip the owner off or yells at them for using a competitor.
- Can’t fathom that a business whose managers are 90% all the same race and gender as the owner might be suffering from a lack of diversity?
- Changes their mind minute by minute, mood swing by mood swing?
- Views the business as a status symbol and spends large amounts of the business’ money on flashy “company” vehicles, showy offices, and designer clothes and accessories in an attempt to look successful?
- Who are so visionary they continuously come up with big ideas and dump them on employees with little concept or regard for how feasible the ideas are. And with little memory of all the other new ideas people are still working on.
- What else? I’m sure I missed a few of the ways owners get in the way of their business.
Is every owner and entrepreneur like this? Absolutely NOT! Business owners are just like everyone else – some are better at what they do than others and some are worse. Some businesses succeed because of the owner and some succeed despite the owner. But these are real examples from some of the business owners I’ve known throughout the years and I’m not convinced those are the traits people are wanting in employees.
When people say they want people who think like an owner I suspect they actually want people who care about the results they are creating, who have a sense of urgency, who look after details and understand the impact on the big picture, and who are generally prudent with resources. But that’s not always the same as thinking like an owner.
Be careful what you ask for.
[Photo Credit: GDS Productions via Compfight.com]