Leadership and the Business Machine


A good business is like a machine. You’ve heard this before, but it is worth repeating.

A good business runs. Like a machine, it does its job. It brings about a result, and repeats.

Like a machine, a good business is a system. A business system is where each member of the team knows the job that they’ve got to do — and they do it each day.

In a machine, each part has its job to perform. A good machine doesn’t have extra or unnecessary parts.

caution-roofing-machineThe leader is in charge of the machine — and of making it run smoothly. The other members of the team are parts of that machine.

Some employees chafe at this description. “I’m just a cog in a machine?”

Well, yeah. And that’s a good thing. A machine performs work and creates something positive. Day after day.

If a person just can’t handle being part of the machine — if he or she is an airy-fairy poet-type person — that’s fine. If he can’t be part of it, he shouldn’t be. Neither the system nor that person will benefit. Wish him well and part ways.
(I personally would rather have a solid roof over my head than read a nice poem in a book, but that’s just me.)

The leader has the hardest job of all — even though the outside observer may not understand that. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure that the system is working — that the machine is running right.

Let’s look at what is required of the leader.

A leader has to ask hard questions:

Is your business just running like a hamster on a wheel — not really making money but filling up your time?

Is your business achieving its purpose?

(What is the purpose of your business? Different businesses have different goals, but I would guess that the mission of your business is to provide value both to you and to your customers.)

cogs_macine_roofingA leader is also in charge of clearly delegating tasks to members of the team.

If somebody doesn’t know what to do — or that its his job to do a certain task — that is the leader’s fault.

The leader is in charge of inspiring the team to do the work well. You’ve got to keep your team fired up.

In this recent Ted talk, the speaker makes the point that you can see whether you’re getting through to your team by looking into their eyes. Maybe this sounds a little “New Age,” but the guy has a point. Are your employees’ eyes always looking at the floor when it’s time to talk business? Or are they looking up? Are your team members’ eyes “bright and shiny?” Or are they wandering around in search of something else to look at?

When you’re in a leadership position, the idea is don’t do the work yourself.

This can be hard to do for a number of reasons.

For one, sometimes it is easier to do the work yourself than to explain it to someone else. You know how to do the job — you won’t have to teach it to someone else, you can just do it yourself.

And when you do the job yourself, you know the job will be done to your standards.

roofing-machine-cryptoBut you know that it’s better to delegate. When you’re the leader, you need to be doing “high leverage” activities: building the business, growing profit, overseeing the machine.

A poor leader gets excited when he or she leaves for a day — and the business falls apart.

An experienced leader builds the business so that when he or she is gone for a day, the business continues to run — and thrive.

Building and running the machine is not easy. But it is what has to happen for a company to achieve success. Build the machine, run it, and then enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

Thank you for the photos used in the post. Frédéric Bisson for the top photo, Pierre-Olivier Carles for the “use your brain” image, Pete Birkinshaw for the monochromatic gears, and finally, brewbrooks for the cryptographic machine. Thanks, all.

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