As I near the end of my third decade advising business owners on ways to grow their businesses, the accumulating evidence is pretty clear: It gets lonely at the top. The more successful a business becomes, the less time an owner seems to have for talking with other owners. As the business becomes more valuable, the stakes are greater — both in winning and losing — so the pressure increases on getting things right. And at a time wisdom and experience is becoming a real asset, there is seldom growth in sharing or passing this along to younger owners and leaders.
On a recent visit to Florida, I connected with a client over dinner with his wife. During a delightful conversation with a tenth-story view of the Gulf of Mexico, his wife thanked me for some advice I had offered persistently over a couple years. “Don’t go alone” was my consistent theme for developing and using an advisory board. This client is a visionary, creative leader. He owns a core business that performs well when managed with tight reins, but this had drawn his creative, entrepreneurial talents away from his larger vision to form a new business with global opportunities. He needed objective guidance and input from sources outside his business.
A three-person advisory board of seasoned business thinkers was recruited. The simple test: “Will you listen to their advice?” An invitation to serve for one year was extended with the promise of minimal pay, good meals and an extraordinary chance to influence the formation of a potentially big and exciting new business with significant ecological impact. The three advisors agreed and a meeting agenda was formed around high-level strategy and organizational structure. The resounding direction given to my client was: “Go for it, and hand the reins to a seasoned veteran in the core business.”
Two years later, a recently promoted president has freed up the owner to focus on launching his new business. His wife is thankful he is now able to concentrate on his passion, and is a happier owner coming home at night. While this advice was not initially acted upon, it has firmed my resolve to consistently urge business owners: “Don’t go alone.”