Many of us remember the old poem about the six blind men of Indostan who happen upon an elephant, and they wish to consider what type of creature it is. Depending on what part of the elephant their hands fall upon, they find him to be very like a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, and a rope. None of these things are very like an elephant, and the poem does well to demonstrate the weakness of limited perspective.
In my observation, most small businesses are started by an implementer - someone who learned specific skills during a period of employment. Over time, the electrician, the writer, or the insurance agent has gathered enough skills and knowledge (and guts) to “go out on their own”. And if they’re really good at this thing, they may soon have more demand than they can handle - so they hire a helper, and then another, and then another. Soon, this founder/implementer is spending most of their time managing the helpers.
And it’s not just managing the helpers - to accommodate the growth the founder must implement and expand their systems. There are now broad areas of the business to consider: sales and marketing, finance, customer service, and IT - and of course you’ve got to provide the actual goods and services that you’re in business to do. For the technician who prefers to keep their head down and “do the work”, this growing business can be akin to a having a pet elephant. Always demanding time for proper care (how does an elephant tell you it needs to go outside?!), and sometimes devouring the founder’s finances or nibbling at their sanity like a tender peanut.
The E-Myth books by Michael E. Gerber espouse that there are three different personality types in business - Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician, and that for a business to succeed each of these things must be present in some measure. Most of us fall naturally into one camp, and must either develop ourselves or delegate the other roles to ensure that the critical functions are well executed as a business grows.
So, the Technician who grows a business to some scale may have to give up “doing the work” so that they can develop themselves into the Entrepreneur - the strategic thinker who gives direction and meaning to the work. And for a time, they’ll also be wearing the Manager hat. They will need to learn some things about sales and marketing, finance, and IT. But it’s hard to know all the stuff - and so the wise business owner will hire people who are better in specific areas than they are.
As these systems get developed and implemented, the elephant begins to come under a level of control. Growth eventually slows a bit (at most companies), staff get seasoned in their roles and are able to develop additional skills. And the smart Entrepreneur learns alongside their employees, to gain perspective on the nature of this beast - how are the finances?, how happy is the crew?, what are our threats in IT?, what’s the market doing in my industry?. With luck, hard work, endurance, and an open mindset, the founder who creates a well-performing business may have a chance to ride their pet elephant. Better perhaps than the goose of the golden eggs, this elephant provides good jobs and valued services to a community, and the owner may be empowered to give to worthy causes and help others in their journey.
I’d invite you to consider: What intentional actions are you taking to gain perspective, grow yourself as a leader, and develop your business systems?
At LoCo Think Tank, we bring a diverse group of business owners into a room once a month for perspective, accountability, and encouragement. We think it’s one of the best ways to equip owners to grow and train their elephants.
If you’re interested in learning more, or have a an elephant training story you’d like to share, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.