Putting a degree of distance between yourself and a challenge you face can often help you analyse it more objectively, and therefore, more effectively. This is what I realised thousands of miles away, as I hurtled across the icy wastes of the Arctic.
My name is Bob, I’m 42 and I own a small business selling software to local companies. It’s a demanding job, and as well as my hectic timetable during the day, the work often spills over into my evenings and weekends. I rarely find time to have a holiday, but my wife insisted we should go to Lapland as a family. Spending time with my children, who are five and eight, would be a real treat, because even when I’m home, I’m often hidden away in my office.
One of the activities we organised was a sleigh ride across the snow. I must admit I was initially sceptical, surely it would be freezing cold and miserable; however, beyond the exhilaration I felt, a sudden epiphany hit me as we skidded across the ice.
Our sleigh driver was relaxed man, who seemed totally unphased by the frantic herd of dogs and blizzard before us. He expertly flicked the reigns and guided us between rocky obstacles. My children loved the huskies, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them as they strained and panted across the ground. For them it was relentless, without respite; even the pieces of meat they received at the end of the journey couldn’t cover the effort they had exerted.
Then it came to me; I was one of those huskies. I was the lead-dog straining at its bonds, dragging my business sleigh with me. I employ thirty people, but still find myself doing the heavy lifting. My wife says I put too much on my plate, without the ability to share tasks; she might well be right, but I’m unwilling to relinquish too much of the responsibility. I built the business, and I’m scared that if I step back, things won’t be done properly and growth will stagnate, or worse, regress.
My employees are my pack, all moving behind. They rely on me to set the example, to run as fast as I can, but I would never be able to fully control their speed. How could I tell how hard they were working? Even from the front, the lead huskie’s vision was impaired, blinded by the rushing snow whipping up into his eyes. For him this was one hard slog, without even the ability to see what lay before him. The lead-husky might eventually reach his destination, but for him this would never be satisfying, his vision would always be inhibited, always blindly straining for the next goal.
Recently, I have become keen on growing my business, because I feel we offer a service that could be useful to a far greater number of people. It has become my driving desire to achieve this. I realised I wanted to become the relaxed sleigh driver, rather than the frantic husky. From his high vantage point, I could guide my business expertly, controlling both the destination and the speed of travel. To do this however, I would have to trust in my employees to cover the terrain expertly, stepping back and having confidence in them to do the work.
Out there in that polar wasteland, far away from by business back home, I realised that changes had to be made for me to become the sleigh driver. My work ethic had been unhealthy and obtuse. Holidays like this with my family were far more important than relentlessly growing my business single-handedly. Finding the balance would be the key. As the sleigh driver, growing my business would surely be easier, but to do this effectively, I would have to reposition myself. But how could I make this transition? I had become so used to individually driving my business forward, that to approach this growth differently was almost incomprehensible. I would need some guidance.