Are you one of those leaders who fundamentally believes that without them, everything would fall apart? If you’re an owner, are you also focused on selling so that you can live the dream with millions in the bank? 

I argued in CEO Fight Club: Never Try to Sell Your Business (issue 41) that you shouldn’t be doing anything differently to sell, so why am I telling you to let your business run away from you? It’s because this is the secret; whether you’re CEO/MD with or without ownership. 

It all starts with motivation. You are motivated if you are doing what ‘you and only you’ can do every day. If there’s anything in your accountabilities/to-do lists that others could or should be doing, then they should be doing it. This has two outcomes:

• You end up with a far more focused list of what you should be doing

• You develop your best people, giving them the opportunity to take on your previous accountabilities

In point 2, if your best people don’t step up, having been given the opportunity and relevant support, then you know you need better people. So rehire. If they do step up then you’ve kept them motivated and you get to focus on point 1. Other benefits of point 2 are: 

• Whereas you may historically have been the glue that ensures everything runs smoothly, your best people are unlikely to follow your mistake. In most cases a positive wave of systems, documentation and process clarification/redefinition sweeps the business as they know nothing should ever be reliant on them. Done in a balanced way, this inevitably creates a far more saleable/profitable business. 

• Accountabilities cascade down the team, enabling the best to flourish and the fakers to flounder.

• You automatically unlock your businesses engagement. No more rousing pep talks and attempts to improve the culture. It either grows because you’ve got the right people in place or it falters and you know to go back to rehire the new leadership under you.

• In point 1, if there’s relatively little left on your list (and this happens a lot with my clients) then a world of opportunity opens up:

If you’ve followed my previous advice and hired people that scare you (they’re so good), then you’re left with the accountability of growing the business to be big enough, challenging enough, growing enough to keep them engaged and motivated. This keeps you focused as the Chief Strategy Officer.

You get to play in your ‘sandpits’. Every leader needs to be clear on their sandpits and what it feels like to play in them. You should feel a state of Flow - where you are ‘fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity’. This is the intersection of what ‘you and only you can do’, what you feel passionate about and what the business needs. For some clients it’s speaking, writing and networking. For others it’s developing new sales channels for the future strategy. Some technical owners love being the chief problem solver. Just find your sandpit. 

As owner you can look at alternative exits that don’t involve you not knowing what to do with the rest of your life whilst you worry about a load of cash in the bank and a new owner destroying your legacy. This is way more common than you’d think. Some examples of what your new future could look like:

a) One client put in place a CEO and sales director, cut back their personal living expenses slightly and now just goes in for monthly boards. This allows their management team to grow the dividends and capital in their business without them having to do the hard work.

b) Another takes six month mini-retirements (Read if this takes your fancy) and then comes in for six months to push the business forward in new directions inspired by their distance from the day-to-day.

c) A non-shareholding CEO I coach at the request of the shareholders applied ‘what can I and only I do’ and realised his team could do everything and so tendered his resignation to the shareholders to save his hefty salary. They rewarded his honesty with a stake in a new business to develop and run.

Even though my exhortation in the title may have led you to believe I was going to recommend you letting go of your control of the business, I think running a business is a lot like being in love:

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” Unknown

As tenuous as you may believe my point to be, if you set your business free to be run by others without you, and it thrives, then this is a good thing. You can decide whether to focus your rare skills on making it even better. If it fails without you when being run by the best people then you’ve probably been hiding from the fact that it’s been failing for a long time. 

So, take the plunge. Let your business free. 

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