Dear Jayme:

I try very hard to keep up with what's happening in my industry. I go to lots of seminars and read all the trade journals. I'm up-to-date on all the latest techniques and tools, and other people even call me with their technical questions. Although I seem to be considered an expert, my business isn't growing, and I'm working too hard. What's wrong here?


Dear Cameron-

Suppose you were a successful major league baseball player. After fifteen seasons, you get hired to manage a team. Would you spend much time honing your skills in the batting cage or on your deadly pick-off move to first? Probably not, because as a manager, these aren't the skills you need to run a baseball team.

Unlike ballplayers, managers must be skilled at strategic thinking, motivation, personnel and leadership. However gifted you were (or are) at hitting (or throwing) a curve ball, it'll do you no good when you're deciding whether to risk playing an injured star or whether to send the runner with two outs and a run down in the ninth. Technical knowledge, no matter how up-to-date or prodigious, is not a substitute for management skills.

"Okay," you say, "keeping up on my technical skills may not help me so much, but it can't hurt."

Nice try, but no cigar. You can sabotage your own success by focusing on the technical aspects of your business.

    First, you waste time maintaining proficiency at something you should be hiring others to do, and since you're the expert, the business will tend to depend on you to operate every day. More business means more of your time, and when your time runs out, your business quits growing.
    Second, time spent turning the wrench, running the backhoe or doing the operational firefighting is time not spent learning how to be a manager and leader. That'll further insure that you're turning the wrench and fighting the fires instead of running the business.

Industry trade journals and seminars are great, and I heartily recommend them. It's essential to keep in touch with your industry, and I encourage you to keep abreast of the latest developments. But resist the temptation to immerse yourself in the latest and greatest way to lay tile, install light fixtures, build cabinets or finish concrete. Make sure that for every nuts and bolts seminar, article or conference you take in, you take in THREE doses of ownership/management information.

Successful sports coaches or managers often weren't especially gifted performers in their playing days, and they certainly don't try to maintain their athletic skills at world-class levels now. They flourish as team leaders because they developed a completely different set of skills. Sure, they still know how to shoot free throws and snap off a curveball passably well, but they devote their time and energy to learning leadership, strategy and management skills. There's nothing wrong with being a technical expert, but don't confuse that for being a qualified manager.


Construction Business Owner, December 2008