Waking Up From a Nap

Earlier this week Colin King said he felt like I had just awoken from a nap. Mikel said he thought I went super-sonic. Frankly, I’m not sure if I have a better description. Part of me wants to say that I let my foot off the brake and lurched forward. As I prepare for spring break with my family, I cannot decide if I am reapplying the brake or drifting off to sleep again. Maybe you can help me? Maybe writing will help me?

In the last three months we have been busy –apparently not so busy but what Colin thought I had been sleeping — we acquired three companies and entered into two more letters of intent (I emailed another yesterday.) I believe every company we own hired one or more new employees. We have also added some partners and signed on two new Executives-on-Deck. All of this is good stuff, but it is more like I am working in the business of LEV, rather than on the business. I can do it in my sleep.

I think the big alarm clock and/or booster engine that ignited was the participation in Culture Index with Patrick McHale. If you have been reading many of my blog posts, I rarely drop names or endorse management consultants. I have friends that swear by their use, but I always think them somewhat lame. I always assume they’re not adaptive enough to our decentralized operating model. I don’t mind, and sometime prefer to hire contractors, but I greatly dislike consultants. As I told Mikel, Patrick sold me the way I like to be sold. He knew where to go, and where to avoid. Most consultants want to tell me how to run my business. That’s a very bad idea. And I also refuse to centralize a formal OKR or operating system for managers because many of them know more about running bigger teams than me! Instead, I practice the owner-investor management method of reminding my managers, “if you have to ask me that question, I hired the wrong person.”

Last week however, the Culture Index surveys gave me data on the people I know best, including myself, my wife, Mikel, and other key teammates. By intentionally erasing my pre-conceived notions and allowing Patrick and the data to rebuild my understanding of our people, I could allow myself to see them more clearly, and brush aside the idealized uniform I had mentally dressed them in. Thankfully, most of the CEO’s are very high on autonomy as well, and would hate it if I tried to install systems in their world. I patted myself on the back then, “Good job getting people that don’t want a boss.” However, some challenges were revealed.

For months, Colin had been saying to me, “square peg, round hole.” I knew from this comment that he was saying I was wrong. I heard it, got it, and admitted it. However, I didn’t know whether the shape was square or octagon or triangle. Where should they move? What type of thing would they excel at? I understood certain people were in the wrong seat, but I didn’t know where to move them to without trying them out in a few different situations and observing their response. (sorry, friends and colleagues that score high on social-ability… what I just wrote is probably degrading, calling people pegs… forgive me, I scored a ZERO on social-ability… I am literally sitting my office with my door closed right now.)

Anyways, the Culture Index surveys revealed nuances to people that helped me appreciate their natural tendencies. No aspect is good or bad, we are all just different. My motivation at LEV is to create opportunities for people to excel. As a result of this excellence, I expect we will provide products and services that others value. They will pay us and we will deliver efficiently. So efficiently in fact –because of our talents– that we will earn a profit. Compounded over time, this lattice should enable people to thrive.

In my dreams, all of this is very organic and self-healing. People enter our world at various points, grow and contribute as best they are able. As their skills become more clear they move themselves –with help from teammates– until they find their sweet spot to flourish. However, not everyone sees the world this way, or is okay with the adaptive and logical, self-healing environment of my dreams. Not everyone can connect the dots in the same way that I can. Frankly, a number of people respond to leadership: “Please, go here and do this thing. Do it well. I will pay you.” Patrick said I prefer to look over the mountain and steer based on a compass, rather than use a map drawn by someone else. I’m also not a very good map builder. I speak only a portion of my mind because I want to leave the joy of dot-connecting available for others. I like it, why wouldn’t they? This is not always the case. However, I am really good at determining a compass heading, going fast, and staying on it for a long time. I bank on adapting to situations with very high ingenuity. It works for me. Don’t force it on others.

Unfortunately, I project my own worldview on others when I try to empathize or lead. I try hard to develop leaders like me. However, it often leads to judgement errors and fits and starts that are not ideal for them. People do not all desire freedom and autonomy as strongly as I do. Some people desire structure and stability. What I see as a cage, they see as a craft or a checklist in which they can produce excellence through repetitive practice. Some work methodically, others are impatient. Some hide their emotions, others show their heart on their sleeve. I need to see more clearly and this gave me data to work with… I will stir it in with my intuition.

Asking people to be something they are not is terribly inefficient and counter productive. Waiting and watching is philosophically accurate, but also somewhat wasteful. This is why I need others, like Mikel, to help me architect and design systems that people can actually execute. I surge forward with crystal clarity, and then fumble into cerebral non-sense when providing instruction to others. Still, I am an enterprising philosopher who will advance regardless. I am grateful for those more gifted in instruction.

Here was my surge: In the last week, I hired another CEO from our EOD pool. I also moved a current CEO off a situation that was likely causing a key operations manager to boil. I moved an EOD into lead generation and more or less asked him to forgo the concept of being a LEV CEO. He happily agreed, reinforcing my impression of Culture Index. I fired a business seller from a company we acquired 30 days ago. I did it by asking him what he really wanted. Was he willing to follow my new CEO? No. So, that’s not really a firing, now is it? He is happy cash balance and freedom. We’re good. I also rethought who should be responsible for tax-prep and outlined an org chart at one of our companies that is more efficient. A location manager quit because change and growth was creating too much stress. I provided an equity path for a very successful serial entrepreneur to make millions with zero cash down.

While negotiating purchases and onboarding investors are two of the flywheels I also spent time on, the recruitment and allocation of people moved more quickly. People are a key component of our engine. I felt like I finally had the data needed to speed up my people allocation last week… and do it in a way that helps each person be the best version of themselves using my over-the-mountain viewpoint. Frankly, this week I was able to use my own talents. Did I say I like to go fast?

Anyways, this was my week. I’m due for a nap.

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