Last week my director of operations left to pursue her life goals of starting her own counseling practice. We had worked together for over three years and she had grown from a junior customer service role (our very first “school happiness coordinator”) to becoming my right-hand person in running Schoolrunner.
In addition to the joy of having someone to share the euphoria and terror of startup life with, I also got to experience the joy of mentoring a high-growth employee. She was the type of employer for whom you are constantly looking for new challenges, new learning opportunities, mentors–anything to keep her interested and growing. But in addition to losing a friend in the office and someone who helped me make all the big strategic decisions, I also lost the person I had delegated the vast majority of my operational work to.
Streamlining Process & Business Building
As we’ve grown, I avoided getting into the weeds for fear that it would distract me from a focus on the big picture. I was afraid that I’d be working “in the business” instead of “on the business,” in the language of the E-Myth series.
Now that I’ve had to take over more of the day-to-day operations, I’m finding all kinds of ways that I can contribute, streamline processes, build relationships and generally make the business better.
It’s not so much that I wasn’t doing those things before, but more that I was trying to achieve a certain level of abstraction or management by process that’s probably a lot harder to do well than I realized. Without all of the inputs from detailed conversations with team members, collaboratively solving problems, it was harder to have the insights that would allow me to make improvements.
Rethinking Startup Leadership
I’ve known managers in my past who were incredibly good at just asking question after question to get to that level of detail, but it’s a skill I’ll need to keep developing as we grow and I’m forced to step back out of some of these day-to-day processes. I also think I’ll be more careful about which tasks I actually give up and which I check in on in a more detailed way from time to time.
Change is the one constant of startup life. I often joke that my job is to play a never-ending game called, “What’s My Job?” wherein the goal is to look around the business and see where I should be helping out. None of that has changed exactly, but now I’m less afraid to get my hands dirty to be part of the solution.
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