High-Level or Hands-On? How Smart Entrepreneurs Strike a Balance

For successful entrepreneurs, there often comes time when handling both day-to-day operations and high-level management of a company is impossible. As hard as it is to relinquish on-the-ground influence, many founders end up making the tough decision to give up hands-on duties to focus on broader agendas.

As an entrepreneur myself, I’m a firm believer that you can have it both ways. This may sound stubborn, but if you play your cards right, there’s no reason you can’t be high-level and hands-on to the financial and cultural benefit of your company. Here’s how:

Be involved, but don’t micromanage

Being hands-on means different things to different people. Some are quick to confuse “hands-on” with “hand-holding,” in which a leader controls and effectively micromanages his or her associates. My definition of hands-on is a little different — in my view, it refers to fully understanding the nuances of daily operations and being able to jump in at any moment.

It’s okay to jump in and get involved, but don’t look over shoulders or attempt to influence every move. This is almost certain to be more stressful than helpful. In fact, a study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business found that highly-demanding jobs that gave employees less control were associated with a 15.4 percent increased chance of death. That’s right — micromanagement kills.

Related: Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart

Rotate between departments

A founder doesn’t have to be an expert at accounting, or marketing, or manufacturing, but they do need to know the basics of how these areas operate and contribute to the company at large.

I try to spend hands-on time in every department of my business, a network of specialized care facilities. I’ll visit the kitchen to help out some days, and on other days I might pitch in at the nursing station or fill in for operations. The greatest benefit of this rotation is that I can witness and troubleshoot problems as they occur in real-time, making it easier to resolve issues efficiently.

According to a blog by Hiscox, “Understanding what is going on in every department of your business is critical if you want to continue to expand.” I think this is absolutely true: you can’t scale a business if you’re not intimately familiar with every moving part.

Reach out and connect

As a boss, you won’t be “in” on every little conversation, experience and joke that your employees share, and this can feel a bit isolating. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have lunch with different teams (even better, treat them!) and get to know everyone better.

According to Fast Company, some leaders choose to do away with the corner office entirely in favor of open offices that encourage collaboration. Others make sure every associate has their personal phone number, while others host drinks, dinners, or game nights to break the ice.

What you don’t want is to suffer what leadership consultant and entrepreneur, Marcel Schwantes, calls invisible executive syndrome, spending your entire work week out of sight to the detriment of employee retention and trust. Among other tactics, Schwantes recommends open-door policies and procedural transparency to break down barriers between executives and workers.

Get face-to-face time with your customers

As an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, I’ve found that the importance of knowing the people and families you are servicing can’t be overstated. At Allure, families entrust us with the lives and comfort of their loved ones. Our concierge staff members keep in close contact with the patient and their family throughout their stay with us.

Knowing the opinions and desires of your customers is the only way to keep innovating, after all.

According to Forbes, “one of the negatives of building a professional organization is that, over time, the entrepreneur often gets to spend less and less time with their customers.”

Craigslist founder, Craig Newman, overcome this challenge by spending the first hour of every day in customer service, but you might also consider holding events to get that valuable face-to-face time.

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Find a balance that’s right for you

Just as restaurateurs must balance their time between kitchen, front of house and office, entrepreneurs should find the right ratio between the hands-on and high-level duties. Done right, such a balance allows for harmony and symbiosis. On-the-ground involvement will inform how big picture decisions are made, and the impact of your higher-level implementations will become clear as you spend time with your associates and customers.

Still, I must stress that what works for someone else might not necessarily be the key to success for you. Find a balance that suits your leadership style, even if it’s challenging to get there.

If you can perfect this cycle, you’ll never feel forced to wall yourself off as your business grows. It’s the best way entrepreneurs can have it all and let the benefits accumulate.

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