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How to Transition from Employee to Effective Owner-Leader

Take these eight steps to help assure a successful journey

How to Transition from Employee to Effective Owner-Leader

With many baby boomer business owners looking to be living the next stage of their lives, there are a number of companies with one or more employees moving into the owner-leader role.

Over the last few years, I have worked with several companies going through this phase. Recently, while talking with an owner and the designated future president of the company, I offered some advice about how to grow into what the company needs. Here is what I suggested to the employee who is to become the leader.

Meet with Leaders You Respect
Look around you, in all aspects of your life. Who behaves like a good leader? Who do you wish you could be like?

That person might be the current owner of the company. It could be a client of the company. It could be your child’s sports team coach. You never know.

Make it your responsibility to meet with different people who strike you as good leaders. Have a list of questions. Ask follow-up questions. Write down what they tell you.

Pay attention to the pieces of advice that come from more than one person. Then start doing some of what made sense to you, even while you are in your current role.

Find a Mentor 
Maybe one of the leaders you met with made you feel like they had a lot to offer you. Their journey as a leader may be similar to yours.

Ask if you can meet with for lunch or some similar reason once a month. Tell them you are looking for someone who can help you find out what you should know.

Flatter them a bit. Pay for their meal.

Agree with them on work you must do between the current interaction and the next scheduled get-together. Then get the work done.

Share the lessons you learned and move to the next challenge, with their advice.

Most decent successful leaders will do this if asked. Maybe you would meet once every two months. Having the regularly scheduled meeting with a clear understanding of what you must do by then is the point.

Attend Seminars
You need outside programming to help you become who you need to be.

Leadership Training for Managers is the name of a Dale Carnegie course. Our son who worked with us did this program. He didn’t do it over three days, eight hours each day. The way he did the program was meeting once every two weeks in the early evening for several hours, while being responsible for getting homework done between sessions. I think there were eight sessions.

I could see him change his approach to working with others and establishing clear accountability with them over the length of the course.

There are many different seminar companies, like Fred Pryor and National Seminars. Find a class whose title seems relevant. If possible, attend it with someone else from your company. Be responsible for reporting to your current owner/leader on what you learned.

Take more classes. You’ll be surprised how much you can pick up.

Learn the Basics of Accounting
In the game of business, the best companies make the most money while being efficient.

You must be able monitor the company’s performance. This is done by reviewing the income statement (the score for the year) and the balance sheet (the score for the life of the company).

Take a class or two in accounting. I took a couple of night school classes at a community college.

Reading books on the subject can help. Here are a couple that are good:

Best case is to meet with someone, like the current owner, to discuss what you are learning. Reviewing the company’s financial statements with the current owner on a monthly basis would be great.

Develop Your People Skills

Managing and leading entails being able to read people and adapt (within reasonable limits) to fit their way of being in the world.

When one is an employee being led by others, doing what I just suggested is less important. Moving into a leadership role means becoming more self-aware and more aware of how different you are from those you must lead.

Consider doing a personality assessment tool, such as DiSC or Meyers Briggs. By learning more about how you innately approach the world you can make decisions about what, if anything, you need to stop doing and what you need to start doing.

This is not easy but over time will give you a remarkable advantage as a leader.

Read Books about Leadership

Part of being a leader is to be always learning. Reading is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to do that.

You can read books. Two that I continue to like are:

Highlight what resonates with you. Go back through what you have highlighted.

You can read newspapers or periodicals. You can listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I found there are lessons you can learn that come from the most unexpected sources. Getting the outside input is key.

Talking with others about what you are learning will integrate the lessons into your everyday life.

Work with a Consultant
I mentioned finding a mentor earlier. A consultant, by contrast, is someone who has experience in a specific area or areas in which you need to grow as a leader.

How to find a good consultant? Ask all the business owners you respect for the names of the consultants they have worked with.

Interview the consultants. Hire one on a trial basis. See how it goes.

If it works, keep on going together. If it does not then try working with someone else.

Meet with the Owner
Once a month, meet with the company’s owner to review your progress.

What went well? What did not go well? Be specific—this project, this day, this conversation, and so on.

Ask for and take seriously the company owner’s perspective. They see a lot of potential in you and want you to succeed.

Sometimes the feedback is hard to take. That means struggling to embrace it will bring much positive change.

All this is kind of overwhelming, isn’t it? It makes you wonder if all the effort will be worth it.

The truth is that all the lessons you must learn to be a better leader will help you no matter what you do with the rest of your life.

By doing what I suggest, you will find experiences and opportunities that you never expected presenting themselves to you. Be ready to take advantage of them!

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