Riddell: In business, it takes two to tango

John Riddell
Not Business As Usual

The recipe for a successful business is really pretty simple — competent management supported by a talented and dedicated workforce. While it definitely takes two to tango, it is a serious mistake to not recognize the distinctive cause and effect. Competent management is the cause, a talented and dedicated workforce is the effect or result.

So often advice columns on business deal strictly with programs and processes focusing on customers and employees with an underlying assumption of competent management. My experience with a significant number of small to medium businesses indicates that this is clearly not the case. In fact, in my opinion, the number one cause of small business failure is incompetent management.

Inherent in this incompetency are basic business principles which have not been learned and an insufficient effort is put forth to acquire them. Compound this with a mindset of “My way or the highway,” and you have the perfect recipe for failure. The sad part is that some really talented and “wanting to be dedicated” employees get caught up in this blender of disaster and their careers and personal lives are severely affected.

So from an employee perspective, how do you handle an incompetent owner/manager? The first rule is “You don’t handle them.” While a lot of folks might like to talk about “managing up” aka putting your manager in a position to succeed, the reality of small business hierarchy seldom lends itself to this approach. So what do you do if you find your manager consistently stepping on your air hose? Simple — figure a way to get out as soon as possible.

“In my opinion, the number one cause of small business failure is incompetent management.”

The longer you allow yourself to be the victim of another’s incompetency, the deeper the hole you will have to dig yourself out of — both financially and emotionally. You can take comfort in the knowledge that talent always has a place in business. A competent manager will recognize this, you will be gainfully employed, and you will be on a new path to success — guaranteed.

So what might be some of the telltales of managerial incompetency? First and foremost is a tendency toward complacency. Managerial complacency is that great heart disease of business. It is silent yet deadly. If your manager is not actively and regularly trying to push the business forward, solicit ideas for improvement, and trying new approaches, then the de facto message is one of satisfaction with the status quo. The death spiral has begun.

Another key component of managerial incompetency is the inability of a manager to bridge the gap between company goals and individual aspirations. If you feel that your manager could care less about your future, then this is probably another pretty good sign that you are dealing with incompetency. Figure out a transition plan and get out quick!

It is important to keep in mind, however, that managerial incompetency is not necessarily a moral failing. It is much more about a lack of managerial talent which sometimes gets lost in the social and professional elevation of entrepreneurship. Everyone is not cut out to be an entrepreneur or a manager. There is nothing wrong with recognizing this fact. What is wrong is someone wasting precious time and resources “hoping” that the reality of incompetency will be magically overcome by good luck in the marketplace. Unless you are in Las Vegas, I wouldn’t bet on this taking place.

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.

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