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Sam’s story: the problem with having all the answers

As a business owner, you’re the person who knows best how the business should run. But sometimes being the one with all the answers isn’t a good thing.

Let me tell you about my client, Sam, who came to us for coaching.

Sam owned a cocktail bar and casino in Sydney, Australia (“the greatest city in the world,” he’ll tell you); located downtown, the bar was frequented throughout the week by business people. All kinds of people played the casino, from lovely young women to suited executives to blue collar workers, but Sam wanted more. He dreamed of creating a mecca where locals gathered to enjoy themselves. He wanted a thriving business that fulfilled the desires of his patrons and drew them seven days a week instead of the current five.

He envisioned himself in the role of a gracious host, greeting and welcoming all comers.

It was an exciting vision, but he wasn’t free to fulfill it. Why? He was the one everyone in the business relied on for answers, even to the most mundane questions. He found himself constantly dealing with routine, repetitive issues so that the minutiae of the business consumed him. He had no bandwidth to make the business live up to its potential.

His team looked to him for everything; no issue was too small for them to request Sam’s insight, or leave it to him to handle himself. For example: In the evening, it often fell to him to switch the bartenders’ “surf” music back to the more sophisticated music that he wanted to set the tone for the bar. He had become the answer man, and the business and his employees were entirely dependent on him to solve every issue—from how often to dust the back bar, to how long the lease should be extended.

It got so bad, Sam began to sleep in a storage room at the office because he was too tired to drive home safely.

Of course, it wasn’t the team’s fault. Sam had effectively become their enabler, micromanaging their every move so that they stopped offering solutions and simply asked Sam for answers.

It got even worse when Sam’s manager, frustrated with his lack of autonomy or authority, unexpectedly left the business. Now Sam had to scramble to cover those responsibilities as well as his own. His days and nights filled to the bursting point between serving drinks, emptying slot machines, and counting and reconciling cash. He still had dreams for the business, but ever getting to them seemed less and less possible.

Then one night, everything went dark.

When Sam regained consciousness in the hospital, the doctor made it clear he had to reduce his stress or he might not be so lucky next time. The heart attack he’d just suffered was his body's way of saying, “You can’t do it all yourself.”

He clearly couldn’t continue at this pace; things had to change, and that meant he had to change.

It finally dawned on Sam, as he rested in the hospital bed away from his business, that he was the bottleneck—he was responsible for his current physical condition and the deplorable state of his business. How could he change?

With little else to do, Sam watched the doctors and nurses as they cared for him. This was a 24/7 operation with different teams working different shifts throughout the day and night. He noticed their interdependence, with clear roles and responsibilities that knit seamlessly together. Every medical intervention recorded on his chart helped to assess his progress and improve care.

Most of all, there was trust and support, and no one person was doing it all. This was the kind of team dynamic Sam wanted in his business.

It would be some time before Sam could return to work. The business had to be run, but without him. How could he extract himself from the day-to-day running of the business? He had an extended opportunity to ponder that thought and consider the resources at hand.

He realized that delegation was the only answer.

With no other choice, Sam began empowering his team to take responsibility for the day-to-day operations—much like the medical team that saved his life. He trusted his employees and their loyalty to him. Working in the business became their responsibility while Sam recovered.

Sam vowed to find a way to step back and free himself of the day-to-day repetitive tasks while enabling and empowering his staff to take charge of their responsibilities. He defined clear roles, and the staff’s questions were captured and turned into FAQs to be used for training and reference, rather than Sam being the answer man. The team began to embrace their jobs and new responsibilities: maintaining product quality and standards, stepping up with autonomy, and being charged with creating updates and innovations to the systems being developed. They grew as a team and flourished. Working on the business became Sam’s new—and only—job.

Not everything ran as planned. There were growing pains and unforeseen complications and exceptions. But every challenge blossomed into an opportunity for improvement and clarification. Sam learned to trust the abilities of his team and passed the evaluation and improvement of daily systems onto them. Gradually, he freed himself of the day-to-day work In the business, and created the time and space to work On it.

How did he do this?

I asked Sam what he wanted to be different—what was missing in his daily routine that held him back from achieving his dreams. He told me, “Time. There is no time. I’m fighting fires, running from place to place, I don’t have control of my time.” I worked with him on the EMyth Time Management process. He learned to set aside daily time for strategic development, analyzing outcomes, and creating “what if” scenarios that would best serve the interests of his clients.

Taking time from his already over-full schedule seemed impossible to Sam at first, but I gently reminded him that if he didn’t change, he might not be around to see the results he dreamed of creating.

Sam adjusted his daily work schedule. Recognizing that he was most engaged and creative early in the day, he decided to schedule just half an hour of daily strategic time into his calendar during the morning, and let his staff know he was not to be disturbed. Gradually, this commitment grew into a habit and expanded to an hour a day. His team was curious about Sam’s strategic time working on the business and took more of an interest in supporting his larger plans. They were encouraged as he regained his strength and enthusiasm for the business.

What real results came out of this new habit and attitude of Sam’s? There are many, but here is just one:

Sam knew that keeping patrons happy and enjoying their gaming time longer was critical to the success of the casino. He realized that the the comfort foods featured on the casino’s menu—although loved by many—were greasy, fried, and didn’t appeal to everyone. Sam wondered if some of his gambling audience might prefer healthier, lighter options. He had the kitchen prepare small salads and they were a hit, keeping his patrons affixed to their stools and increasing revenue by $35,000 per week!

Sam wouldn’t have been able to make that change if he hadn’t made space for strategic time. But even with these amazing results, Sam had to be cautious about falling back into the day-to-day and losing the momentum he had created. I asked Sam, “How do you change these ingrained behaviors in both yourself and your staff?” Sam decided that from now on, when his team asked for his input, he would make a point of stopping his natural inclination to answer. Instead, he would turn the question back to them: “What would you do? What does our operations manual say? Do we need to make changes or updates to how we do this to reflect a better way—an innovation?” This simple change empowered his staff and broke their habit of depending on him for all the answers.

In our work together, Sam finally embraced the idea of delegating work to his team. He shared the EMyth process “Designing Systems” with his team, so members became personally involved in creating systems which achieved the best and most consistent results. Sam used some of his daily strategic hour to read and absorb the EMyth business development work. This allowed him to identify missing steps in the existing systems in each of his business’ Seven Dynamics that weren’t producing the intended results.

Now, with time and space to consider his vision, Sam revisited the idea of expanding the casino’s hours to seven days a week. He wanted to expand who he attracted, and he knew that folks coming on the weekends weren’t the same as the professionals in the adjoining office towers. What would draw them downtown?

That’s how Sam landed on his latest innovation in the works—Jazz Brunch! There are many popular jazz bands with huge followings. He is auditioning bands now and looking at new brunch items to add to the menu, along with specialty cocktails. The goal? To grow Sunday revenue by 40 percent. Talk about a jackpot in his casino business!

Although being hospitalized is never ideal, Sam's experience allowed him to change his perspective and delegate the running of the business to his team, which created the growth he sought. It turned out to be a lifesaving shift—both for Sam, and for his business.

He hasn’t slept in the storage room since his return.

If you’d like to begin working on your business like Sam did, here’s a great way to get started now—come to our next free EMyth Masterclass: The Business Owner's Roadmap. Click here to save your spot.

Do you have a story of a moment in your business when you knew it was time to step back? Comment below!

Lynn Goza

Written by Lynn Goza

Lynn is an EMyth Coach, and Mentor. Her passion is coaching smart, talented, and engaged entrepreneurs who are committed to their success by focusing on learning and accountability. Together she and her clients discover opportunities and break through barriers to create the life that fulfills them. Learn more about Lynn or schedule a free session with her.