Get Out of the Way, but When?

We have all heard that, as managers, we should not get in the way of our staff people doing their jobs. Michael Gerber’s famous line, “work on your business, not in your business,” from his book “E-Myth,” is one of the most frequently quoted lines in management.

It is especially favored by small-business owners who want to sit back and manage instead of work in the weeds. Harvey Mackay, who wrote “Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” offered the following piece of advice: “The single greatest mistake a manager can make is not getting out of the way! Provide goals, resources, and leadership. Your people don’t want restrictions, or someone telling them what to do, or rules. Knowing when to get out of the way is the key.”

I especially like the last line in Mackay’s quote: “Knowing when to get out of the way is the key.” Too often, small-business owners who read these books take things too literally. They are either “in” or “out.” Or, they are “working in” or “on.”

The reality is, as a manager or owner of a small business, we find it necessary to work in the business at the same time we work on it. In like manner, we sometimes need to get in the way to avoid problems that our employees can’t handle or solve themselves. That has to be balanced with getting out of the way and letting our employees take responsibility, or we end up doing their work for them.

In business sense and sensibility, we must find an overall balance in what we do that fits our company and our situation…and be willing to change as our business grows. I have often written about the importance of falling in love with our businesses. The truth is, we tend to fall out of love when things go poorly and then fall back in love when things go well. If we reread both Gerber’s and MacKay’s books and then make sure we strike a balance, we will find it easier to stay in love with our business.

Carl Gerhardt is the chairman of Alliance Franchise Brands LLC, the parent company of Allegra Network LLC and Sign & Graphics Operations LCC, and a world leader in marketing, visual and graphics communications, linking more than 600 locations in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. The company’s Marketing & Print Division, headquartered in Plymouth, MI, is comprised of Allegra, American Speedy Printing, Insty-Prints, Speedy Printing and Zippy Print brands of marketing, printing, mailing and Web services providers. Its Sign & Graphics Division, headquartered in Columbia, MD, is comprised of Image360, Signs By Tomorrow and Signs Now brands of sign and graphics communications providers.

Carl and his wife, Judy, owned and operated their own successful Allegra franchise for nearly 20 years before selling the $2.3 million operation in 2003. He is a PrintImage International/NAQP Honorary Lifetime Member and was inducted into NAPL’s prestigious Soderstrom Society in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to the industry.

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