Piloting Your Own Plane and Tech Leadership for Nontechnical People
Jen and Twila discuss why business owners need to provide solid leadership. Although delegation is OK, don’t hand off operations. Learn and avoid the pitfalls of failed tech leadership. Tips for CEOs, consultants, and small- to medium-sized businesses.
People we mention in this episode:
– Tilman Fertitta: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilman_Fertitta
– Landry’s Inc.: http://www.landrysinc.com/
– Margaret Wheatley: https://margaretwheatley.com/
– Batman and Robin: https://www.dccomics.com/characters/batman
– Jen’s blog post that mentions Batman and Robin: https://fostergrowth.tech/no-one-tells-website-ownership
– Resident Budgetologist: https://www.keepupwithmrsjones.com/
– What does Jen mean by a football handoff? [We hope this helps]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0j0kVzis-c
Jen and Twila discuss why business owners need to provide solid leadership. Although delegation is OK, don’t hand off operations. Learn and avoid the pitfalls of failed tech leadership. Tips for CEOs, consultants, and small- to medium-sized businesses.
You’re listening to the Third Paddle podcast recorded at the Vandal lounge in the beautiful southeast Portland, Oregon. Why the Third Paddle? Because even the most bad-ass entrepreneurs get stuck in Business Shit Creek. Tech Strategist Jen McFarland and business strategist, Twila Kaye are your Third Paddle, helping you get unstuck.
Hello and welcome to the Third Paddle podcast. This is Jenn Mcfarland. I’m joined today by Twyla came, my lovely co-host, and Liz Zirk, who is seriously trying to wrangle this and we’re doing our best. Not to talk into the mic for 15 minutes before we start every episode, but I have to be honest with you. I’m really fascinated by the mic. What about you Twila? I am so fascinated by the mic. It’s just great to be with you today. We’re super excited. So what we’re going to talk to you about today is leadership. You know, because as small business owners, savvy business owners, you know you are the CEO of your own business. And so we’re going to talk today about things like piloting your own plane and tech leadership for non-text so that we can help you avoid the pitfalls. So, um, are you ready to get started?
I am ready to get started. This is one of my favorite topics. Do you see it a lot as a business strategist, right? That people want to hire you and have expectations that you’ll just take care of it, right? Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the mistakes the small business owners and entrepreneurs and even CEOs and executives make, right, is just kind of handing things off and thinking that they don’t need to be bothered by that or OK, you know, somebody that someone else can handle that. I think we’ve gotten so conditioned in our business culture here in America we have delegation, which is great. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t delegate, you absolutely should delegate, but being the pilot of your own plane, being the CEO of your own business. Yeah. OK. You delegate with purpose and you’re still in control and you’re still overseeing and you’re still managing and you still know everything that’s going on it at any moment, um, within your business.
And you’ve got to know that. Yeah, I mean I think that there’s a difference though, at least for me in my mind between, I know I’m a sports fan, so I’m just going to use a sports analogy. I mean there’s a difference between delegating, which means you’re in communication and then like in football when you like do a handoff and you’re just giving the ball to somebody else and they run with it. And I would say that in business, I encourage people to not give up the football, but let somebody else run with it. Delegate tasks and projects to somebody else. You still need to know what’s going on. Absolutely. And you know, one of my idols and a silent mentor is Tilman Fertitta. He is the CEO and founder of Landry’s Corporation. Hundreds of restaurants, you know, great brands, Bubba Gump, Rain Forest, Café, Landry’s, Chart House, Morton’s.
I mean, we could go on and on and on, right? And multiple hundreds of hotels and you know, he’s a billionaire for crying out loud. But what I love about him as a CEO, as it at any moment, you could ask him any question about any one of his properties, a store, uh, you know, uh, a shop within one of his hotels or a restaurant in any city and he will know exactly what’s going on and he’ll be able to answer your question or he’ll be able to know exactly who to pick up the phone to, to get the question answered for you. And you know, when I look at Ceos like that, that’s what I model piloting your playing, being the pilot of your plane or being the CEO of your business after his. He’s empowered thousands, thousands of people to work for him and delegated that all out.
But he is still the man and the buck stops with him. And that’s how you have to be in your business. Leadership. Um, and got my master’s degree in leadership. One of my favorite thought leaders on leadership is Margaret Wheatley. One of the things that she talks about a lot is about how we live in this uncertain society and there’s all this disruption around us, but we still need to be leaders. We still need to acknowledge what’s going on around us. But then you still find ways to remain centered and, and move forward despite the uncertainty. And so I think that that’s one of the things that, at least that I see is a challenge, is that like, yes, there’s going to be a ton of stuff going on swirling around you.
You know, sometimes I feel in my own business like, I’m, I’m in the circus and I’m just spinning plates and they get free. They get real wobbly, real wobbly sometimes, you know. But I managed to keep it going. You know, and sometimes you hire people because the plates get real wobbly or you don’t really know how to spin it. But at the same time you know, you, you gotta know what the plates are and how much you’re paying for it. And despite not knowing what tomorrow may bring, right, until they leave, that plate is to work in for you if it’s not working for you, how to make the changes, right? Like one of the things that I see quite a bit, especially with solopreneurs and small business owners, we’re so busy wearing so many hats and spinning so many plates as you’ve said that we do.
Our tendency is we just want to hand it off just here, you know, and especially in the tech side of things which you’re going to be talking about here in just a second, you know, especially in that tech world of here, here’s my stuff for my website. Just go do this or where I need to hire somebody for sales. Let me just go, let them just go handle sales. And we don’t always put an emphasis on knowing those things ourselves and knowing how to do those things for ourselves. And so one of the problems that we run into is when we do hire someone to do something or we do pass the ball, so to speak to them, then we don’t give clear direction and we don’t get the results that we want. Sure. Yeah. I mean, you know, and one of those areas where it’s really easy to kind of let go or handoff, um, is the work that I do.
Right. I mean, so in, as much as people talk to you as a business strategist and they want to hand off the leadership piece, I would say that a lot of times people want to hand off the technical piece to me and just, you know, let me have my way in and we’ll talk in a minute about some of the pitfalls of that leads to when you hand off somebody, all of those, all of those details. But I just really want to encourage people to really consider what tech leadership looks like for people who aren’t technical. Because I think that, you know, yeah, we all, we all started our business because we’re great at something. You know, we’re all great technicians and something, we have a skill that led us into entrepreneurship and we’re confident in our, in our technical area, but sometimes we lose confidence when we’re operating outside of our passion.
Or um, another word I’ve heard for that is Zone of Genius, which I just, I really like that phrase. I’m not that I think I’m a genius, but mostly just that like it just is pretty cool. You know, you started something because you’re really good at it and your passion, you’re passionate about that, you know. But at the end of the day, I think that most of us acknowledge that we need things like websites and applications and landing pages and funnels and you have a bigger business or not even that big of a business. You may have a database, you know, even if you have a WordPress website, you have a database, you know, but anything that you use to track customers and revenues and things like that, these are all technical bits and pieces. You know, that you need to make your business go. When I was in project management, we had these large programs that we were developing that had six and seven figures worth of financial transactions, you know, um, our, our leaders were often not people who were technical, you know, and that’s the thing that people need to remember is I’m a technician, you know, I love working in the technical pieces, but if I don’t know what it is that you want, it’s really hard for me to serve you and do a great job.
Absolutely. You can’t deliver what you don’t know is expected. Exactly. Yeah. And so what I’d really like to encourage people to do is to make a wishlist of everything that you want or need the product to do, you know, how do you think that it will help, you know, what is. That would be an application of what you’re asking somebody to do. You don’t have to be technical to make that list. You should have some pain points that are causing you to hire somebody. Correct.
Right. And you should have some idea of what your vision is that you want. Even your, especially your technology to do for you. Right? Like you should have an idea and a vision of what you want your website to do for you. Do you want it just to attract clients and build your credibility and your authority with them? Do you want it to sell a product or a program? Do you want it? What do you want it to do? Right? Like you need to know that and you need to think not just right now what do I want it to do, but within the next two years, what do I want it to do? And be able to express that in a way that your service provider, someone like you can actually deliver that to you so that your money’s not wasted.
Right. And I work with a lot of people to help them develop kind of that roadmap or the strategy, you know, that tech plan and then helping people guide them through like getting the right people to really execute that plan.
Yeah. And I know even on my own projects, you know, you’ve done not even with me and he just asked a lot of questions and things that I hadn’t really been able to think about it because I didn’t know to think about them. And you know, that’s the great thing about working with somebody like you is you do get, yeah, expertise that will ask you questions because you don’t know what you don’t know. Um, but you should have, you should always, as a CEO of your business, you should have a clear vision for what you want.
Well, and I think the thing to remember is that you know, with technology it’s what do you want it to do, um, because technology for the sake of technology is not helpful. But technology should always further an important cause and whether that causes giving you more time, whether that cause is making it infinitely more easy for a customer to engage with you or buy something from you. Um, those are all the questions that you need to be asking is. And then, and over and over again and in different ways. And I was still funny because I was on a call earlier this week where I kind of got the sense that like the person I was talking to was getting like why do you keep asking me that? And I’m like, well I want to sure know I want to keep asking you questions around this in different ways to see if the answer’s the same.
And that’s what I mean, if there’s one little nugget that you get from this episode, is that like, just keep asking yourself questions in different ways, you know, around what it is that you’re really hoping to accomplish. And, and kind of what that I always, I, you know, the one to two-year horizon is great. I ask people more about the three to five-year horizon, you know, and like, cause it’s Kinda more that vision, right? You know, like a leader, a manager is kind of about the people in the here and now a leader is really about the vision.
Think you’re about the future, about their, where is this company going and how are we gonna get there. Right. And you know, one of the mistakes that I see a lot of entrepreneurs who come to me first, strategy and stuff is they really don’t have that clear vision of what do I want my company to look like and you know, even in that, and we’ll talk about this in a later episode, that exit strategy and we talk about that a lot, right? Like what if whenever you start a business, you should have the end in mind and know what your exit strategy is going to be. But along the way, you know, and like I said, we’ll talk about that in a later episode. But along the way, you really have to take an interest in the CEO, the pilot of your plane. You have to take a daily interest in your business.
And what that means is you really have to wake up and want to know what’s going on in your business. I want to know what plates you have up in the air and how they are spinning and what they’re there for and how much you’re spending on them. And are they working, are they not working? Is this a plate that you can hand off to someone and still keeping control and control isn’t a negative thing, right? Like control is just knowing every piece and part of your business and what it’s there for, what it’s doing for you, what it’s not doing for you, who’s handling it, how they’re handling it, what it’s costing you, what it’s producing for you, what your return on that investment is. All of those things, right? Like you and that it comes right down to your technology and everything else.
I mean, absolutely. It’s kind of like, you know, I wrote a recent blog post about it. You know,
I say that your Batman, the CEO, and you’re, that means your Batman and anybody you hire to help you as Robin, you know, and you don’t let you don’t ever see Batman handed off the keys to the Batmobile. Robin never drives the Batmobile for. I’ve never Batmobile watching that show her. Well, I won’t say how long, but many of you probably have been watching it as long, if not longer than I have. And you’ve never seen Robin driving that car. Right? So the same thing, you never want to pilot piloting your plane ever.
Exactly. You know, and, and one of the other things that I absolutely encourage people to do is to take advice from experts, you know, ask as many questions surround yourself with I’m good people. And listen, you can absolutely ask your colleagues on Facebook for advice, um, but remember that you’re still the boss and it’s your brand that’s on the line, you know, every decision that you make, every step that you take. Because when you, when you ask other people, they’re there giving you advice based on their experience, but if they’re not, their business isn’t even if they’re in the same businesses, businesses together,
the same industry. Absolutely. And that is one of the pitfalls riot and how to avoid it is just making sure that whatever advice you’re taking in from whoever it is, even if they’re an expert in your industry, discern that for yourself and discern that for your own business. And will that actually work for my business? So many times I see entrepreneurs and small business owners taking the advice that’s out there. And it’s great advice. You know, um, right now we have a real affinity out there for sales funnels and so, you know, almost every entrepreneur and small business owner now that it’s coming to me for strategy, they’re asking me about sales funnels and what do I need. And my first question is, well, I don’t, we haven’t even gotten to the part if you even need a sales funnel yet or not if that would even work for your business or not.
Right? So even there are just those pitfalls that there’s so much advice out there and so much that you’re learning about what you need to do in your business, but you have to be the CEO and really discern that and take that in and make sure it really fits for who you are. What you want to do, when, where you want to get to in your business are the things that we’ll talk about a little bit in a future episode is about setting up those budgets, you know, and, and putting together particularly around tech because that stuff can be so expensive. And so one of the pitfalls I would say that it’s important to avoid is that shiny object syndrome where you know, you’re always looking at the next thing your friends and buddies and Facebook ads are telling you what’s great because if you’re not being strategic about your steps, you know, if you’re putting, handing the keys off to somebody else can end up being really, really expensive and not sustain. Yeah. Cuz they could crash your car.
It’s like, you know, when you have teenagers, you don’t want to give him the keys because you know what’s going to happen, right? Like you need to have that same caution in your business. You don’t want to just hand off the keys because they could crash your car. Can you, can you give me an example on your side of the house and the business side of the house of somebody who just kind of said and like handed things off. What, what, what’s a pitfall that you see when people don’t take the reigns of leadership all the time? Yeah. So that’s a great question. And I was working with client in Las Vegas who had actually done that and she had checked out of her business for quite a while and just kind of let, because her company had been around for 15, 20 years by then, she was really confident in how it could run and she got really complacent and thought my business runs itself so I can step out, take care of some person in my life, you know, just kind of do what I want to do now because the business is running itself right.
And for the most part, it did on a daily basis. The work got done. It wasn’t that the work wasn’t getting done and then she decided to check back in and hire me to help her up-level her company. And she had 21 employees and another division of her company that was in-house. They weren’t actually business partners, but they were collaborative partners and they were running as divisions of one another. And um, so for me it was a really fun project, right? It was, I just saw a lot of potential and that we could do a lot of employee training and you know, a lot of leadership training with them and really take the company to the next level. So she checked back in, brought me in to do that. I started meeting with the employees, started meeting with her partner, so to speak, um, to see how we could even up-level that division.
And within three months the whole thing fell apart, mass exit, um, you know, like half the employees left. Why did that happen? Because she had been checked out and they had been able to run things for so long their way and what they wanted and then all of a sudden it was like she came back in, but it wasn’t just that she came back in, she came back in with a new vision and, and didn’t really communicate that beforehand. Right. Which I wasn’t aware of, which was a note to me as the business strategist and the consultant coming in, you know, that was a lesson learned for me to always make sure that the whole team has the buy-in before I ever stepped foot in the place. Um, and it’s just that fear of change with everybody and they were just like, no, we’ve been able to do it this way for so long and now all of a sudden you want to do this different and who’s this person coming in and you’re bringing a consultant to come in so that means I’m going to lose my job.
So I’d better go look for one anyway. And there was just a lot of, of false assumptions being made. And she wound up losing tens of thousand dollars worth of a month in revenues for almost a year until we could get everything rebuild it. It turned into a total rebuild project. And she had no idea that it was going to happen that way. But that is what happens when you just hand things off and just check things out. And that’s certainly, you know, kind of, uh, uh, the worst case scenario of doing that. Right. But that can happen. I think that also is kind of where things like embezzlement happen and things like that. Yes. And it did, it did. Yeah. And I had a business coach at one point, you know, talk about some of those worst-case scenarios were kind of a similar situation to what you were talking about where
you hand the reins off and somebody else kind of assumes that CEO role and they’re going in a whole different direction and then the actual owner comes in and is like, what is going on? It always ends badly because the person has filled your shoes, you know, and, and, you know, so even if it seems like it’s going well, like, you know, it can certainly end up costing you in the end. I mean I think that like, you know, I think we all have similar stories even on the, on the tech and where, you know, I’ve worked on projects where I’m. And that’s why this is why I asked so many questions when you’ve worked on big projects and you realize that there are so many assumptions being made. Um, the then you ask more questions to kind of avoid the pitfalls of that split where you’ve made so many assumptions in a project.
There’s, as you know, a lot of dependencies. Meaning if you make one decision, then it’s like a whole, it’s like a house of cards, you know, you’re just kind of making a whole bunch of decisions based on some assumptions. And so, you know, one of the pitfalls, certainly on the, on the technical side, is that you make a series of decisions, um, that ultimately ends in unhappiness and lost money where you’ve built an entire, you know, technical approach based on false assumptions, you know. And so one of the reasons to ask a lot of questions up front of yourself and to really take that ownership is, you know, to basically, you know, on a, on a solopreneur or an up leveling, small business, you know, it’s kind of like, well you can, you can really think about what you want to do three to five years from now or you cannot and cost yourself, you know, 40 grand later, you know, and rebuilding everything and starting over, which has happened. I’ve also worked on application development scenarios where a wrong assumption was made and we literally had to restart tens of thousands of dollars in lost time. And, and that’s a lot of unhappiness and honestly, it’s unhappiness for the tech people to like, we don’t, we don’t like to see those kinds of scenarios play out because we’ve put a lot of work in.
Right. And the same on my end right now, literally. I mean literally I would lay at night in a fetal position in tears for her thinking, oh my God, you know, what did we do here? Like, this wasn’t supposed to happen this way. And just felt so bad for her. I, I knew, you know, it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t their fault. There wasn’t blame and fault in that. But, you know. Yeah, to your point, you just, you don’t want that to happen for the client either.
For anybody who has money. I mean, that’s the thing that there’s an emotional toll when you discover these things about your business or when you realize how much things are costing you and chips away at your totally chips away at your confidence. Like, can I even do this? Am I even capable? Yeah. And so I think that the, the, the, the ultimate pit fall it, you know, it is money, it’s time, it’s service delivery. So I can’t actually think about an aspect of your business, um, that isn’t affected if you don’t take that leadership role. I mean, it is kind of a path to ruin. And so is it, is you just have to keep telling yourself, I am the pilot of my plane, I am the CEO of my business. And you have to take ownership and everything. And that doesn’t mean that you have do everything, but you do have to take ownership. OK? I don’t pilot planes. I’m the captain of my yacht and there you have it, say login.
So I think that that’s a wrap for this episode and we really just want to encourage you to subscribe so that you can continue to get updates. And in fact, if you subscribe now, we are offering an Ebook, “10 signs you’re headed for CEO Shit Creek”. It’s an awesome summary because, you know, we can’t go over all of the pitfalls during a podcast episode. We kind of gave you the high-level version, but we’ve really broken it down for you. So if you subscribe today, then you’ll get this e-book talking about the different signs that you’re headed for, for Shit Creek. Because honestly, we really want to help everybody avoid that. Or when do you get into it and navigate out of it. Sometimes you just can’t help but get into Shit Creek. You’re an entrepreneur. That’s right. And that’s why we’re here. The Third Paddle podcast, handing you that paddle to help you get out so that you can get unstuck. Thank you again for listening and we’re super excited to share with you some of our future tips around things like a mindset and budgeting and different things like that. Please listen to us again. I’m Jen Mcfarland, Twila Kaye, thanks a lot.
Thank you for listening to the Third Paddle podcast. If you like our show and want to learn more, check out our website at www.thirdpaddle.com or leave us a review on iTunes. Send questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to tune in each week to get even more technology and business tips to help you navigate business Shit Creek. The Third Paddle podcast is sponsored by Foster Growth at https://fostergrowth.tech and Twila Kaye International at www.twilakaye.com.