Do you feel like you're the only person in the firm who can do one particular thing? Does everyone else kind of stink at it?
The story goes like this:
We’ve got people who can do this and people who can do that, but I’m the only one who can do [fill in the blank].
Sometimes it’s the initial consultations.
Sometimes it’s the trial work.
Sometimes it’s the marketing.
It’s awesome that it’s getting done in a world where getting things done is always harder than it ought to be.
It’s wonderful that you’re good at it. It’s terrific that doing it has enabled you to build the business. It’s great that it’s being done so well.
It's not unusual for the thing you alone are capable of doing to be THE THING. It's the thing that's your competitive advantage. It's the thing that has brought attention, results, and success. If you hadn't been doing the thing, you'd likely be working as a public defender in a beige government office building and putting 50¢ in the coffee can for each cup.
But doing it isn’t getting where you want to be.
In fact, doing it is holding you back.
Why are we doing it? I know you've convinced yourself that it's because you've got to do it. You're the only one who can.
But we don't keep doing these things (whatever they may be) because they can't be done by others. There are other forces at play. We rationalize, we explain ourselves to ourselves, and somehow we start to accept our story. Most of us reach the point where we believe our bullshit. (I certainly do.)
So why are we doing it? It’s not because we’re the only ones who can do it. It’s likely that we’re doing it because…we like doing it. It makes us feel good.
It’s natural that we enjoy things we’re good at doing. It's comforting. It keeps the happy-feeling chemicals pumping through our brain.
In fact, many of us learn to do something we’re good at when we’re having a bad day. It's about self-soothing. It's good for us. It’s a quick trick for hitting the reset button. It makes us feel better instantly.
Doing things that make us feel good may be good for us. Feeling good is nice. I like it too.
But what's the objective? Are we in business to feel good? Or are we in business for some other reason? Or are we in business for a little bit of both (accepting that we may have to make some compromises to have both)?
It's your call, of course. But, when we hold on to the things we enjoy, we slow down the growth of the business. Instead of overcoming challenges, we spend our time doing what we enjoy.
When we hold on to one thing, it keeps us from focusing on other things. Holding on slows the development of our team. Holding on shifts the focus of the business.
There are things that only you can do at any particular moment. They likely involve creating your vision, hiring your team, and making cash available. They are the highest-level tasks and drive the growth of the business. Others should handle everything else.
When you believe this story, “We’ve got people who can do this and people who can do that, but I’m the only one who can do [fill in the blank],” then you need also to believe that you're slowing growth. You're moving more slowly than you would if you'd figure out a way to let go and let others do it instead of you.
There's nothing wrong with going slow. You get to decide on the destination and the route. If you love it and it's what you want, then keep doing it. There's no downside to happiness. Happiness is good.
But you can be replaced. Believing otherwise is a load of crap. It's not true. It's not reasonable. It's not reality. Someone else can do it. In fact, it's likely that someone else can do it better!
Be careful when you jump forward to respond with “I've tried to get them to do it and they're not as good as me.” Of course they're not. You're exceptional at this thing you like doing. They don't need to be as good as you to do it. They don't need to be better than you. You're holding them to an impossible standard because you're not ready to let go.
Keep doing it if you like, but know that it's happening this way because it's what you want to do, like to do, feel good about doing, and are doing for reasons unrelated to the growth of the business.
If you're ready to move forward—grow—and increase profits, then it's time to let go. It's time to tell yourself a different story. It's time to accept that anything can be done by someone else. These others may not be as good as you, but they might also be better. The idea that you're the only one who can do it is debilitating.
Here's how you start moving away from the “I'm the only one…” story and toward your new story of letting go, freeing yourself up, and giving yourself time to focus on growth.
1. Train for it.
You've got good people on your team. No matter how much you might sometimes feel that they have been sent by the devil to sabotage you, they are doing their best and trying hard. They come to work each day aiming to make things better. Unfortunately, they may not know exactly how to make a difference that matters.
Training is something most of us simply don't have the time, energy, or expertise to do well. When we don't train, or when we train haphazardly based on mistakes, we don't get the best results from our team.
Of course, training requires surplus time, energy, and resources. You've got to pull the trainer and the employee away from other duties, or you've got to outsource the training and pay for it. It's a challenging chicken or egg problem. Solve this, and you'll make growth happen.
2. Hire for it.
Training the team may not be realistic given your current circumstances. It may not be helpful for developing the particular skills you require, given the composition of the existing team. You may simply lack the resources required to teach people to do the special thing you do. Knowing how to do it and knowing how to teach it don't necessarily go hand in hand.
Sometimes you'll have to hire the skills you need. Of course, good hiring is challenging. But it's also exactly the kind of thing a strong leader focuses upon. It's the lever that allows you to grow. Successful businesses require great teams, and your energy is properly invested in hiring instead of doing things that make you feel good.
Hiring, of course, is tricky. It's complicated when you're hiring for the skill at which you excel. There's ego involved. There's resistance to different approaches. There's a need to preserve the specialness we feel when we're the “only” one who can do it. All of that gets in the way. You'll have to learn—probably the hard way—to manage yourself. When I figure out how, I'll write about it here.
3. Change the business model.
Revising the model is likely the quickest, easiest solution to your dilemma. This is the path I have chosen over and over again.
Sometimes the business model only works with the particular people currently in their particular roles. That's great right now. But it won't work when you require new people for growth. Changing the model may require fairly dramatic rethinking of how the business makes money.
Initial Consultation Example. The law firm owner is excellent at initial consultations. When he handles the consultation, most potential clients become clients. Staff members have been injured due to the speed at which potential clients whip out their credit cards. It's amazing.
He wants to spend his time on vision, adding to the team and managing cash. He'd like to be freed up from doing the consultations, but he says, “We’ve got people who can do this and people who can do that, but I’m the only one who can do initial consultations.”
He's tried training, and he stinks at it. Everyone ends up in tears (including him). He's tried hiring for the role and ended up with zero. He tried lawyers and nonlawyers. He's even attempted to do the conversions online. Then he decided to change the business model.
Here's what he's doing, and it's working. Instead of finding someone to do the consultations just like he did them, he changed the clients who come in for consultations. Through a content-rich website, an engaging sequence of materials sent via e-mail, and an entertaining and compassionate video series, he changed the mind-set of potential clients.
Now, instead of potential clients arriving and having to be convinced to hire the firm, they've already decided to hire the firm. That's not to say that the job of converting potential clients into clients is easy. It's still challenging and important, but it's dramatically easier than it was when he was the lawyer handling those meetings.
Suddenly he had a new job—different from the job only he could do—that others could satisfactorily fill. Now he's able to step away from the consultation role and take on the role required to drive growth.
Another Initial Consultation Example. The same problem can be solved in more than one way, and we're just talking about the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. There are many solutions to every problem.
What if, instead of communicating differently with prospective clients, we change the number of potential clients? In this example, the lawyer accepted that his employee's performance would not match his example. Accepting that fact meant—because he still wished to grow—changing something else about the model.
In this example, the lawyer let the conversion rate slide, but he dramatically increased the number of potential clients. Would he have preferred to both increase potential clients and maintain conversion rates? Of course, but building a business that only employs superstars isn't realistic. He needed a model that worked with the people he could hire for his team.
He increased the marketing spending and diversified a bit. The call volume shot up, the consults increased, and the conversion rate sank. But that was fine because the gross revenue more than doubled. He was able to make what he'd been making and more because he changed the model. Now, he's out of the initial consultation role and may, one day, figure out a way to improve the conversion rate and increase his profits even more.
I could go on and on with ideas for you that allow you to step away from the “I'm the only one” trap. But it's not a specific illustration that solves this problem. The solution lies in your willingness to let go of ownership of the task. It lies in releasing the thing that feels good and letting others take it on, even if they aren't as good at it as you may be now.
When you start asking the right questions, you'll find the right answers. It always amuses me at how successful we are at finding others who can competently handle the things we don't want to do. It's exactly the opposite of what happens when we enjoying doing something.
Let go of the old thinking. Open up to something new. Don't get defensive; don't resist. Someone else can do it. And if you're about to e-mail me (email@example.com) to tell me why the thing you do can only be done by you and how you can't get anyone else to do it, then please know that it's exactly you I'm speaking to today. You can do it. It'll be hard for lots of reasons. But you can do it.