Earlier this year, Lori and I became the parents of two college dropouts. (That’s 100% of our offspring. A clean sweep.) What’s somewhat surprising to me is that we’re ok with this.
Andy (first-born) spent two years at college. Truth be told, throughout his youth other parents would say to us they could imagine Andy bagging school “a la Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.” Nonetheless, when during spring semester sophomore year Andy told us he was thinking about taking time off to start a business, we were surprised. Wouldn’t he be better served to complete the four years and proudly display his Stanford diploma?
Noah (second-born) spent one very successful semester at Menlo College in California, openly saying “I love it out here.” He thrives with independence and had long spoken of a desire to be out west. We were stunned when he said he didn’t want to go back, preferring instead to move away from the typical classroom to attend barber school in Massachusetts.
Lori and I are both graduates of four-year colleges, have happily followed a very traditional life path, and held default expectations Andy and Noah would do the same. But we also knew as parents our primary goal was to prepare the boys to live healthy, happy, and productive lives. Given that only they can decide what “happy” looks like for them, how to achieve those results is also theirs to decide and execute.
It’s the same for business owners / leaders. While many feel they alone know best how to do the work, running the business that way pretty much guarantees limited growth and job satisfaction. It is the job of the owner / leader to define and hold others accountable for what needs to be accomplished – end-point goals, values, culture – and let the employees figure out how.
When employees receive that responsibility and freedom, they get to build a career, feel a sense of contribution and accomplishment, and are more likely to stick around. In turn, the owner / leader gets to spend more time handling the fun and challenging visionary, sales, and leadership work, and less time in the weeds.
The job of the leader is to define the goals – the whats – and let everyone else figure out how. This formula usually results in a happier, healthier, and increasingly productive organization.
Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As one friend wrote after learning both of our boys deemed themselves former collegians, “No more tuition, free haircuts for life, #winning!” We can live with that.