Four weeks from now, Lori and I become empty nesters, and eight weeks after that we deposit our younger son for what threatens to be long term in California. (Yes, that means both of our boys will live 3100 driving miles away—so we’ll have to get a really fast car!) In between those two departures we’re selling our home of the past 10 years, and moving into an as yet unknown rental home. Not too much upheaval, eh?
Raising two boys over the last 20 years has been a time of constant change and challenge. Each stage of our kids’ growth required us to anticipate, act, and make decisions for which we had no experience or qualifications. How much do we intervene, or discipline, or let go? When can we increase our level of trust and their level of freedom? And who knew that talking involved thumbs?
The biggest challenge was the moving target that we were powerless to stop: our boys were going to grow up, and we had to move with or slightly ahead of their next steps.
Similarly, growing, successful companies never stop changing and improving. They hang on to what’s nearest and dearest – what makes the company appealing to employees and attractive to job candidates – and continuously improve systems, processes, and organizational structure.
When I go into companies nowadays, I often find a mindset based on “make THIS work.” I end up asking, “Is THIS the only solution?” Maybe there’s a good reason this solution doesn’t work, and it’s not incompetence or a lack of effort.
Companies need to grow comfortable with always asking, “What does better look like?”
The benefits of growth and continuous improvement are many, including the excitement and stimulation of new opportunities and challenges, knowledge we’re likely positioning ourselves for more and better exit options some day, and providing money to pay for running the show, including increasing salaries and paying bonuses (big kid allowances)!
Of course there are significant challenges to running an always-growing company, but the continuing and increasingly difficult problems just mean we’ve qualified to play in a tougher league, hopefully leading to bigger returns.
A former colleague once said, “Raising children is an ongoing series of behavior modifications . . . for the parents.” It’s no different for business leaders.
Seeing our sons leave the nest does hurt – a lot actually. But within days of their leaving we’ll hear the excitement in their voices and we’ll smile and feel proud. And then we’ll go out to dinner, read quietly in any room in the house, and take more trips.