The past couple of years have been tragic for me. My wife Ashley passed away after 2 years of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and while I cared for her during the last year of her life, I, too, had multiple health problems.
While Ashley had one or two doctors to deal with, I had 10-15. I endured 78 days of daily hospital infusions for a spinal infection. The infection was rare, and was not easily diagnosed. Without a clear-cut diagnosis, multiple tests were performed while diagnosing my problem which subsequently resulted in diagnosis of both prostate cancer and a pre-cancerous polyp stem in my colon. After 3 surgeries and 5 hospital stays, it appears that the cancers and infections are all gone. Other ailments remain, but they are not life-threatening.
My wife and I’s problems consumed practically every waking moment. This made it tough to run and work in a business. As President of Kirkham Systems, I was accustomed to working each and every day to make the company better. I felt as if I wasn’t there, something would get missed, maybe some client would not be taken care of, or perhaps things just would not run as smoothly. I felt I HAD to be there.
I was wrong.
Fortunately, we had started an initiative to transform the way in which Kirkham Systems does business. It was perfect timing to bring in someone new, without all the baggage of the way we used to do things, and to initiate many of the changes we needed to make. I was very lucky that I knew someone that I felt would be excellent for this endeavor.
The company changes are working great, and Matt Caswell is doing an excellent job in making sure i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. During his tenure, he has gone from Sales Manager, to General Manager, and now, to President. I am confident Kirkham Systems will be fine without me.
I told you all this to tell you this: Your company will – or should – survive without you.
During these transitional times, it helped a great deal if I thought of the company as a separate entity. An entity that had its own goals, its own resources, its own reason for existence. Sometimes these things were in alignment with personal objectives, often they were not.
Realizing that the company I had founded, ran and worked in for over 10 years while watching clients and employees come and go can make it hard to step back and analyze things objectively.
I had no other choice, and it has made me a better owner, and perhaps a better person.
What is amazing is that prior to my life-changing experiences, I KNEW what needed to be done. I KNEW the path the company needed to go. I KNEW what my weaknesses and strengths were. But work got in my way. “I’m too busy to deal with that, I have fires to put out.”
I was FORCED by circumstances to change my outlook. With a little luck and timing, I had unknowingly initiated these changes BEFORE I it was too late. I suppose I saw the writing on the wall and began planning for worst case scenario. I just did not realize how worse the scenario would become. Had I not done some of the things as early as I did, I KNOW the company would be in much worse shape now.
Leaders come in many shapes and sizes. They possess different skill sets, life experiences, management talents, and personalities. As much as I admire remarkable leaders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, I know that each have their weaknesses and strengths and what makes them successful is building around those weaknesses and strengths. I’ve also observed Wharton or Harvard-educated CEOs of Fortune 500 companies fail to leverage their weaknesses and strengths and create less from more. Education alone does not define a leader or CEO.
In the case of Gates, Jobs and Musk, they were and are terrific visionaries that clearly understand that they alone would cannot execute their visions without help. All truly successful CEOs have clear visions. Maybe they are not visionary, but they have clear objectives, and work hard to fill in the blanks from a talent, skill or experience standpoint.
Maybe your company needs to move into a new direction. Maybe you want to leave a legacy for your family. Maybe you want to take care of everyone that has made it what it is today. What your company’s and your personal objectives are is for you to decide. Then see if you think those objectives will be met in case of your untimely departure. Will the company survive? Will it THRIVE? If not, don’t wait until it is too late.