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Screamers

November 27, 2009

We used to call them “screamers”. They were great guys on the ground and proficient aviators when they were at the controls. But while they were teaching you how to fly, they deserved their nickname.

The “screamers” had two opposite tendencies. They were so accomplished as aviators themselves, they would hardly let you make a mistake before they corrected you. While it can be deadly to go to far, it’s hard to learn without being able to go far enough to recognize your own mistakes.

At the other extreme, a “screamer” would let you go almost too far in a maneuver that was unfamiliar to you. They would then grab the controls in a display of superior airmanship and save the day. While perhaps ego gratifying to the savior, all in all not the type of experience that builds confidence in the pupil.

Hard driving business owners will often exhibit many “screamer” tendencies as their businesses grow. Much like the flight instructors, whose fate may one day be dependent on the skills of the pupil, the fortunes of the business will one day be dependent on the development of the management group.

The independent business owner is usually an admirable person. The sort of person we all respect for their accomplishments, their abilities, and their frequently generous personalities. Again, much like the young flight student who admires the experiences of the veteran flight instructor, the young manager looks with respect to the boss who has built the business. But watch out when the “screamers” are in the air or on the job.

The boss has generally “done it all” at some time in the building of the business. It is easy for him or her to spot a problem and make an early adjustment.. It not so easy for them to stand back and wait for someone else to recognize the problem. After all if this business goes down, its over for everybody on board.

As a result of the boss continually seizing the initiative as problems arise, initiative and independence are stifled for the others in the organization. The boss develops a secret fear that everybody else is either incompetent or doesn’t care.. The aspiring managers become frustrated and believe whatever they do won’t be good enough. The boss will do whatever he wants anyway.

In addition to having the skills and experience of having “done it all” before, the boss is equipped with an overall perspective and authority that others in the organization don’t possess. The boss can allow an employee to go nearly to far in the wrong direction with an assignment and then “grab the controls” with a display of superior skill to save the day. Again, far from a great confidence building experience for the employee. And worse yet, it reinforces the bosses erroneous view of indispensability.

Most young aviators survived the “screamers” and moved on. Some, I am sure returned as “screamers” themselves one day. In the business world however, its not so easy to move on and the consequences for the “screamers” themselves can be great. Without the ability to develop responsible, independent managers and employees, your own development and the growth of your business will be limited.

Unlike the larger public corporations where there is often little difference in experience and authority amongst the top executives, in the privately owned business there is often an enormous gulf between the boss and the next level of authority. The head of the privately owned business must be sensitive to this potential communication gulf or they will become isolated.

You have to be confident enough in your own abilities to let someone go far enough to learn through their own mistakes, and wise enough not to let them go so far that a confidence shattering emergency occurs. While it is no less easy to let an employee experiment with your business than it is with an airplane in which you are flying, it is nonetheless just as important if you want to develop managers that can one day fly on their own.

Managers and employees in your business are looking for independence, not interruptions. It is important to recognize, define and communicate to your managers what limits their independence will have before you will interrupt them. Those limits will expand as they grow in experience and you develop confidence in their abilities.

Your good people want you as a supporter, not a savior. Let your employees understand that they can come to you for direction. Show them that you view this as wisdom not dependence. Let them see that you can patiently provide assistance without rushing to usurp their responsibilities.

Because its your business, don’t be a “screamer” and both your business and your employees will fly to great heights.

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