Relationships, passions and interests: Should you really work “on” rather than “in” your business?

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newspaper war
A story about a new "newspaper war" in southern California -- and a look at media in the digital age
newspaper war
A story about a new “newspaper war” in southern California — and a look at media in the digital age

One of the common suggestions (largely perpetuated by Michael Gerber through his E-Myth books) is that business owners who start their careers in the trades need to learn how to work on, rather than in, their businesses. In other words, they need to learn how to go beyond their trade/technical skills and master the art and science of business management. These skills are different and include supervision, management, marketing, sales, strategic planning, and more — a virtual hodge-podge of skills. The most important skill, the gurus advocate, is to be able to set priorities, hire and delegate effectively (and sometimes that means being able to fire wasteful or disruptive employees, without of course getting caught in wrongful dismissal legislation.)

Yet, as I write this blog, I have some trouble believing this advice is entirely correct, especially if our trade reflects our passion and personality and is more than a job. I really can’t see how, if you are a great architect, engineer, contractor or tradesperson, you could find happiness and success by putting away your tools  to become a business leader. If we remove the fundamental activities and skills that brought us to some success in the first place to grow our businesses, are we giving up what is really in our heart and soul?

Now, I know some consultants will say this thinking is hogwash. They’ll say that business cannot be sustained until they reach the stage where they have value that transcends the founders/entrepreneurs’ original ideas and their hands-on involvement, and they are right. Obviously, as well, a business is much more likely to be successful if the tradesperson/owner can combine some passion for business ownership and management with the relevant trade skills; if not, the person is probably simply better off working for a well-managed business that treats its employees well.

But maybe we risk losing the traits that allowed us to succeed in the first place if we subsume our underlying passions for business efficiency. What do you think?

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