John owned a bakery that produced some of the best baked goods in his small town.  While his business was doing quite well, financially, he felt that he was a slave to his bakery.  He felt like his bakery would fail if he were not present during the early morning preparation work, setting up the glass displays, and hiring employees that he required to run his bakery.

But then it happened.  John had a heart attack one evening as he was closing out the cash registers for the day’s work.  John realized that he could no longer run the bakery like he had always ran it in his younger days.  So, John decided to hire Sherri.  Sherri was his lead cashier and she had worked in the bakery for several years.  He trusted Sherri to run things while he was gone.  As a precaution, John told Sherri exactly what to do and when to do it.  He warned Sherri to beware of some of the less trustworthy employees and he taught Sherri his systems for managing the bakery.

Unfortunately, John’s worst fears were realized when he heard from some of his long-time customers, Judy and Fred, that his rolls did not seem as fresh as they used to, and that the display cases were in disarray on the days that John didn’t work.  John quickly confronted Sherri with his disappointment in her management of the bakery.  He shared what his customers told him about the rolls and the display arrangements.  Sherri was humiliated.  She thought that she was doing everything that she could to run the bakery as John told her.  She told John that if she would give her a second chance, he wouldn’t be disappointed.  John still felt like Sherri was his only hope to take over for him as a leader of the bakery, so John agreed to give Sherri a second chance.

Sherri studied the documents that John had given her and she memorized everything just the way that John told her so that she would not lose her job.  She realized that she had done some things differently after she took over the first time; and that was the cause for the customer complaints.

A few weeks later, John was approached by Judy and Fred.

John invited, “So, I spoke with Sherri. How are the display cases and rolls?”

Judy spoke up first, “Well, the display cases look just the way you did them in the past; and the rolls are very fresh.”

Fred interrupted, “That’s true, but I wasn’t treated very well by Sherri the other day.”

After john inquired, Fred shared that Sherri told him she would not allow him to get a piece of pie, because he forgot his wallet at home.

Fred exclaimed, “John, you always give me credit when I forget my wallet.  Why didn’t Sherri give me the same courtesy?”

John was incensed.  How could Sherri have been so rude to his long-time friend, Fred?

When John confronted Sherri with the problem, Sherri responded, “But John, you told me that it’s your policy to never allow customers to get food without paying.”

John frowned, “But, I meant those teenagers.  Not a long-time customer like Fred.”

Sherri was clearly crest-fallen, “I’m sorry.  After our last problem with the rolls and display cases, I was very careful to do just what you told me.”

John was saddened.  He knew that he needed a manager to step up and do his job just the way he had done it in the past.  But he also knew that he needed a leader with some common sense to make the right decisions to serve his customers.  He didn’t want to write every thing down on paper.  He really needed Sherri to start taking the initiative to run his business as if it were her own.  As a last resort, John contacted the town’s local business coach.  He had heard good things about Coach Russ.

After John finished explaining his whole story about his heart attack, Sherri and his loyal customers, Russ decided to interject with a few questions.

Russ queried, “John, why did you first start your bakery?”

John responded, “I started my bakery because I felt like I was being underpaid as a baker at our grocery store; and felt I could do better for myself.”

Russ built on his question, “How did it feel to start your own business?”

“It felt great.  At first I was scared, but then I got the hang of my business and developed some unique ideas that attracted a lot of customers to my store.”

“What did you think about the added responsibility of managing people?”

“At first, I was annoyed with managing people that didn’t seem to care about my bakery.  After a while, I felt like I hired the right people and the bakery was easier to manage.”

“How do you think Sherri likes the role you have given her to manage your bakery?”

John looked puzzled, “I think she likes it.  She seems like she wants to please me and do a good job.  I just don’t know if she’s the right person for the job.”

Russ smiled, “Does Sherri care about your bakery?”

“Of course she does.  She has been loyal to me and seems like she wants to do a great job.”

“Then why don’t you trust her to do a great job?”

John looked a little incensed, “But I do trust her.  I hired her didn’t I?”

“You told me that you were scared when you first started your bakery, but then you learned to enjoy your independence.  Why didn’t you have independence at your job as a baker for the grocery store?”

“Because Ol’man Simpson called the shots.  He told me everything I needed to do and wouldn’t let me try some of my own ideas.  When I started my own bakery, I got to try some of my ideas; and they worked.”

“So, why don’t you let Sherri try some of her own ideas?”

John laughed, “You know my customers complained about Sherri’s ideas… our stale rolls and our display cases.  Do you think those are ideas that will win me business?”

Russ agreed that it sounded like Sherri made some poor choices, but he wanted to hear from Sherri herself.  So he had John invite her into John’s office to participate in their discussion.

Russ asked Sherri, “John told me that he had a few customers complain about stale rolls and sloppy display cases, Sherri.  Can you explain to me what may have led to these complaints?”

Sherri gave John a timid look and then responded to Russ, “I remember that.  But we have no problems now because I’m doing things exactly as John told me.”

Russ reassured, “Sherri, I’m not interested in that right now.  I’m mainly curious about why you changed the display cases and changed the amount of time you would keep rolls in the displays?”

Sherri felt a little more confident, “I noticed that we threw away perfectly good cinnamon rolls every so often, so I kept the rolls in the display for one day longer than normal and sold them for half price.  I marked the rolls as “day-olds”.  I did this with some of our other baked goods as well.  I then changed the display cases to feature surplus baked goods.”

Russ asked, “What do you think about that decision, John?”

John was a little taken aback, “I’m not sure what to say, Sherri.  I guess I should have asked you why you made the decision you made before being critical.  I’m curious.  Do you know if your decision made a difference for our bakery?”

Sherri beamed, “I sure do!  We gained an additional $250 per day in sales and cut our food waste in half.”

John responded, “Sherri, I’m sorry I questioned your judgement.”

Sherri responded, “No problem, John.  I’m glad I had this chance to explain.  Can I get back to the bakery, I was in the middle of setting up the display cases when you called me into your office and we’ll be opening shortly.”

Russ responded, “Sure, Sherri.  Thanks for your help.”

After Sherri left John’s office, Russ asked, “So what do you think about your new manager now?”

John retorted, “I feel better about Sherri’s judgment on the rolls and display cases, but she still didn’t have the ability to make the right choice with Fred when he forgot his wallet at home.”

Russ smiled, “John you really can’t have it both ways.  Either you empower your leaders to make independent decisions or you tell them everything they need to do.  When you chastised Sherri for her display cases and rolls, you communicated that she would get in trouble if she didn’t follow your every word.  Then, when she followed your ‘no cash, no service’ policy with Fred, you decided she couldn’t make wise decisions on her own.  You claimed that you liked moving from Ol’man Simpson to your own bakery because you were allowed to implement your own ideas.  How do you think Sherri felt when you almost fired her over the rolls and display cases?”

“I guess I was acting like Ol’man Simpson, telling Sherri what to do and not trusting her to make the right decisions.”

Russ smiled, “You got it.  How do you think you will direct Sherri moving forward?”

“I suppose I can let her do her thing.  I need to trust her and encourage her… and not come down on her without better understanding her decisions.”

“It sounds like you understand that teaching leaders has more to do with encouragement and asking for results rather than micro-managing their every move.”

John smiled, “Yes, I have.  Thanks Coach Russ for spending some time with me.  Who knows? If I can train a few more leaders, I may actually be able to retire.”

It is common for business owners to forget what was so special about leading their own company; and tend to be overly critical of managers they promote to leadership roles.  Your managers will make wise decisions and foolish decisions, but they need to feel they have the support of the business owner either way.  When they make wise decisions commend them for their creativity and innovation.  When they make foolish decisions, console them and let them know you’ve made a few foolish decisions yourself.  It’s all part of being a leader.  As a business coach, I help business owners who are married to their businesses become developers of leaders within their own company so they can gain the freedom they so richly deserve.   If you’re interested in handing off some of your leadership responsibility to others, please complete the contact form below.  I’d love to help.

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.

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