The owner’s word weighs a ton

Written by Signal vs. Noise - - Aggregated on Tuesday May 15, 2018
Tags: management, management-and-leadership, entrepreneur, startup

Be careful not to throw your weight around without knowing it.

Yesterday I was in a board meeting for a company I advise. Great group, strong business, profitable, all the good stuff. But the owner-CEO was stuck. He felt like he’d laid out a pretty clear vision and direction, but people’s priorities kept shifting. This thing was important, then all the sudden it was this other thing. Lots of bouncing around, not quite enough focus. He didn’t know what was causing it, but it turns out it was him. But how?

We dug into it. As we went, I recognized the problem.

As much as we’d like to pretend we’re just one of the crew, the owner is the owner. And when the owner makes a suggestion, that suggestion can easily become high priority. It’s rarely what the owner intends, but it’s often how it’s received. When the person who signs your check says this or that, this or that can quickly become the most important thing.

It’s like the old EF Hutton ad “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.”

So something as minor as “Are we doing enough on Instagram?” can shoot Instagram to the top of the marketing priority list. It was a mere suggestion, but now it’s a mandate. “Why would he be talking about Instagram unless he really thought Instagram was super important?”

What’s worse is when the owner finds him or herself in the weeds. Meddling too much in this problem or that problem. If that’s where they’re spending their attention, people assume it’s top priority. It may be a mere curiosity, but that’s not the impression it makes. If she’s looking over there, then we should be looking over there. The owner’s presence in a problem area can re-prioritize the organization’s plate without intending to.

And that’s just one example. But owners like to lob ideas all over the organization, and often many at the same time. You can think of them as tiny pebbles being tossed into a pool. When the pebble hits the surface, it radiates small waves. If you’re in that pool, you’ll be affected. A splash over here sends waves this way, a drop over there sends them in another direction. Before you know it, the stillness is broken up by intersecting rings of water. It can get chaotic pretty quickly. And after a while, it’s unclear where all the action started, it’s hard to trace. It’s just busy, churning water. It takes a long time to settle it back down again.

So if you own the place, be careful what you say and when you say it. Most of the time your word carries more weight than you wish. Reserve that weight for when it’s really necessary.

The owner’s word weighs a ton was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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