Leader By Proxy. The New Small Business Owner

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teacherI don’t consider myself a business owner. I married a man that has an established company. The road from the beginning, nine years ago, to now has been a difficult one, but so much has been learned along the way. Before I got married I used to think that business owners were infallible. They didn’t make mistakes; they were mature about how to treat people, how to teach them, and how to relate to them. I found throughout the years that just isn’t true. Being a business owner doesn’t mean that you’re a natural teacher or even a leader. It just means that you’re in the position to help others and to teach them what you have learned along the way.

In my case, I am learning by the seat of my pants. Through necessity, I teach the same way. Even today, as I’m driving into the office, I am planning ahead where we will start, which proposals are most important, and which clients we are seeking to claim. Rarely does the day turn out the way I planned. From the time I walk into the office until the time I leave, it is a consistent shift between the unexpected and the challenging. This is the norm for us. We are in a competitive field and moving between situations needs to be fluid. The problem with this is, it forces every day to be a trial and error setting when it comes to teaching someone. Not only are you attempting to teach them the nuances of the business, you’re hoping they will absorb the ability to adapt and be patient for others in their position. The whole scenario can be stressful. I used to think that if the employee wasn’t learning, then they were doing something wrong. But as my father, an established businessman, has often told me, if the person being taught isn’t learning, then the teacher needs to rethink their methods. The truth is, if the results aren’t positive, there is something wrong in how the lesson is being taught- a disconnect between the teacher and the student. I think at this point it is safe to consider if too much of our personal selves has become involved in our business lives. This relates to teaching in the workplace because too much of a teacher’s insecurities play into how tasks and skills are being taught; especially in a high stress environment. The true talent of a teacher is not necessarily removing their own personality from the lessons being taught, but being consistent in kindness knowing that they too (the teacher) are still learning themselves. You can be in the process of perfecting a skill with someone when you realize that you too are susceptible to the same mistakes and therein lies the disconnect. The next step is to know where the problem is to be solved. Sometimes it’s as simple as starting the task from the beginning and sometimes it’s considering how the teacher is delivering the instruction. For example, key words are sometimes heard differently from one speaker to the next, or sometimes it’s as simple as eliminating steps from the beginning to get to the end result.

For me personally, when I was primarily the student, I valued patience from the teacher. My own habits of learning; the fact that I had it in my head that steps needed to be performed in a certain order, that there was an organization that needed to be applied to every process that was executed, it was a road block that the person teaching me had to work around. They didn’t lose faith in me; they exerted patience to give me the room to realize where I was going wrong. In turn, I discovered a willingness and desire to step out of my own comfort zone and assume new and more challenging projects.

Last modified: March 14, 2013
Nikki Hall
Nikki is the co-owner of Aspect Tree Service in Alexandria, VA. Learn about her business at www.aspecttreeservice.com

This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

Category: Insider's perspective, MPR Authored, Small Business, Small Business Corner, small business owners, startups