A successful entrepreneur passes through four phases: the Founder Phase, Farmer Phase, Tinker Phase and Thief Phase.
Within each of those phases, he must grow as a leader. Every business is built on relationships. But, as the psychologist Alfred Adler wrote, “Every problem is an interpersonal relationship problem.” Relationship problems don’t disappear as entrepreneurs become more successful; they just get bigger. And good entrepreneurs must develop the skills to maintain more relationships with deeper connection as they grow.
(Not sure which phase you’re in? Take the test here.)
In the Founder Phase, the entrepreneur must lead his clients. His focus should be on retention: helping the client plan for future visits; acting as a trusted confidante and advisor. He’ll be invited to their weddings; one or two might cry on his shoulder. He must manage his relationships with clients in person for as long as possible (usually up to around 150 clients.)
But good entrepreneurs usually have more than 150 clients. In the Farmer phase, the owner must transfer client relationships to a staff member for the first time. Clients might wonder why Dr. Jane isn’t providing their treatment today, or why Colin wasn’t there to greet them at the door like he used to. In the Farmer phase, the entrepreneur must learn to lead a team. She must clearly establish roles and tasks; evaluate success objectively; inspire and motivate her team to deliver her vision of success. She must resist the temptation to “just do it myself!” and learn how to delegate so she can focus on growth.
Learning to be an effective manager is a real challenge, and many owners never make it beyond Farmer phase for that reason alone. But the best entrepreneurs create a management layer to free them from daily delivery of their service. This smaller team is comprised of 3-5 roles: usually a COO or General Manager, a CFO, and a CSO. Sometimes, the owner might also place a supervisor in charge of new product development, or might separate Sales from Marketing. But his purpose is to move his focus away from one business to focus on another. This is the Tinker phase of entrepreneurship, where the owner focuses on developing cash flow assets, solidifying his base, building new ideas or entering new niches. In the Tinker phase, the entrepreneur must learn to lead himself. He must overcome Impostor Syndrome, manage stress, and refocus on his family. He must make the scary reach for a new opportunity without losing his foothold.
If she makes it to the Thief phase, the entrepreneur will focus most on her legacy to her community. She will mentor others; she’ll create an endowment or ongoing empowerment program for others. She must lead her community to see her vision and carry out her legacy after she’s gone.
Founder phase leadership: I was a personal trainer. I had one-on-one relationships with every client. I went to their weddings and sent them flowers when they were sick. I booked their next appointments before they left after their workouts, and answered their phone calls at 4am.
Farmer phase: I had to shift my clients to other trainers, but still pay myself. That meant keeping the team engaged and motivated, maintaining a relationship with clients without much FaceTime, and focusing the time I had on growing the business. It was a tough balance: more than once, a client said “Why are you hiding in your office instead of chatting with me?”
Tinker phase: I had to hire specialists whose knowledge was deeper than mine in their area. I had to overcome the paralysis of working with millions of dollars in expenses. I had to manage my stress and prioritize my family time in a stream of never-ending work. And I had to learn to focus on one opportunity at a time. I began managing myself: my cognitive load, my health, and my own weaknesses as a leader. Then I began working to improve all of those things.
Thief phase: I am building infrastructure to protect and continue my legacy. In my mission to make 1,000,000 entrepreneurs profitable, I will need dozens of professional mentors using the TwoBrain platform. And in my mission to help local kids play sports, I will need to create a recurring funding pool to pay for their opportunities. These are two elements of the legacy I want to leave. Fulfillment of that legacy means leading others to carry it out when I am no longer able to.
Leadership is a common buzzword. Dozens of books from former military experts, videos from TedX talks, and courses from industry teachers shed wisdom on the topic every year. Every one is valuable. But they all boil down to two words: “FOLLOW ME.”
Luckily, focusing on the specific areas of leadership you need to improve will help!