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The Hardest Thing Any CEO Will Ever Do
Years ago, if you had offered to buy MicroTech right out of my hands, I would have signed the documents, sight unseen, and asked “How much did I just sell my business for?” I simply wouldn’t have cared. Not because the company was struggling or because I didn’t get along with our clients, but because I was so overworked, stressed out, and miserable that it was difficult to imagine any other way out. Today, it’s a different story. I love the work I do and look forward to coming into the office every morning. But it wasn’t always that way. Before I could get to the comfortable place I’m currently at with the business, I had to get to the breaking point. There, I learned a hard lesson that transformed not only my business, but my life, one I think many of my peers can probably identify with. I had to do one of the hardest things any CEO ever has to do. I had to learn to let go. When I took the reins of MicroTech in late 1998, I did everything, top to bottom. From IT to sales, accounting, administrative, and management, a massive chunk of the company’s daily operations stood squarely on my shoulders. At first, I welcomed the challenge, eager to prove my worth and bring this old-school tech company into the modern age. But eventually, I became so overwhelmed, spending every waking moment working or stressing about the business, that it began to affect my personal life and mental health. Still, I couldn’t imagine stepping back from any of my roles within the organization. What if an employee made an error? What’s more, if I didn’t spend 70 percent of my time out in the field, speaking face-to-face with my clients, what would become of those business relationships upon which we depended? I knew if I did something, it’d get done right, but what I failed to realize was the huge toll this “DO EVERYTHING” mentality would take. Over time, every ounce of energy was sapped out of me. When I was at home with my wife and kids, I may have been physically there, but mentally, I was completely checked out. Despite my constant effort in the business, my work began to suffer. I went through some of the most difficult years I’ve ever
experienced, knowing the entire time that this was not how I wanted to live my life.
But enough was enough. Speaking with my peers and a few inspiring business leaders in networks like Entrepreneurs’ Organization, I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to make some serious changes. As the classic business maxim goes, I had to learn how to run my business instead of letting it run me. I elevated talented members of my team into roles where they could really shine and gave them the space to do so. I loosened my grip on key aspects of the business, trusting that those I’d put in place could devote their full attention and do a better job than I ever could while I was juggling everything at once. To put it simply, I began to learn how to effectively manage and delegate without micromanaging an entire company. It’s been an ongoing, slow process with more than a few hiccups along the way. Even though we’re still experiencing growing pains while I solidify a vision and direction for the company, it feels now like I can finally come up for air. Meanwhile, I’m steadily becoming more available to my family than ever before, both in the amount of time I have to spend with them and my ability to be truly present when I’m with them. Now, both MicroTech and I are in a better place than we’ve ever been. Though I wish I would have started this important shift 10 years ago, I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to gradually implement these changes when push came to shove. For all my peers who may be overworked and struggling with a do-everything mentality, don’t be like me and suffer in silence for years. Every day, look at a key role in your company that you’re currently filling and consider the things you have to do to turn that role over to a member of your team. Just know there is such a thing as a work-life balance, but you have to build it for yourself.
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