Gary Grefer, President and CEO of Atlantic Foods Corp., had just successfully reinvented his company. After losing a large account that represented the majority of the company’s business, Gary had led the company during its quick and successful turnaround.
“With the help of Aileron, we redefined the company, we recreated the culture, and we restructured the organization. We went through a lot of hard work with a strong team,” recalls Gary.
The company exceeded much of Gary’s near-term expectations during the transformation. In fact, the company hit its five-year goals within 18 months. In less than two years, the business grew about 60 percent.
After the rebound came a large amount of introspection for Gary. “The success was such that I had difficulty with setting a new vision going forward. I was struggling with it over a few months,” says Gary. “We overachieved in a short period of time and I didn’t anticipate that.”
No matter how successful, all small business owners have experienced uncertainties, fears or even self-doubt at one time or another.
But what if, like Gary, you find so much unprecedented success that you question whether you are the right person to continue leading your company? Here are 4 steps to take to help channel this kind of introspection into something positive.
1. Keep asking “why.”
Gary says his introspection focused on one question: Where do I want to go next?
“I was not coming up with any good answers and, as a result, over a period of time it prompted me to wonder if the organization would be better served by someone else carrying the flag,” he says.
In an effort to stay as objective as possible, Gary focused on repeatedly asking himself the question, “Why?”
“Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? Why do we want to grow?” These are the powerful questions Gary asked himself. “[The process involved] just really peeling that back, and getting to what matters. For me, that process was not comfortable because I wasn’t coming up with answers—but that’s okay.”
Starting with asking “why” may not provide immediate solutions, but it can provide clarity around what’s behind your fears, motivations, or self-doubt.
2. Get perspective.
One of Gary’s first steps when determining if he was the right person to continue to lead the company, was reaching out for support. He then took the time to make investments in the team around him—including making a time and educational investment in himself.
Gary worked on strategy with his Business Advisor, Tony Collins, and he attended the Course for Presidents® at Aileron. He attended other sessions including the Know Your Customer workshop and took advantage of his Aileron peer group. Reaching out to other business owners and having an advisor was beneficial during a time in which Gary says he was struggling to come up with a new vision for the company.
“That’s when the questions were beginning to hit me…I was really struggling with coming up with a vision. I couldn’t answer, “What’s next?” His peers’ perspectives and support from his business advisor helped him continue to work through his unanswered questions.
3. Free yourself from ego.
Gary says his situation and decision-making process also required letting go of his ego. “Business owners and founders often have egos and sometimes those egos serve us pretty well, but there are times when, we need to separate from our ego and to be able to set it aside—at least for me.”
“When you pull ego out of it, and see what’s there, then it becomes a little clearer. That’s not necessarily easy. I’m not sure everybody’s up for that challenge,” he adds. “Placing employee’s and customer’s needs before my own was helpful in managing my ego,” he adds.
4. Clarify your personal vision.
Forced to explore and think deeply across all areas of his life, Gary is still defining his personal vision, and the company vision—and how the two come together.
As a small business owner, sometimes your personal vision can get put aside. You can easily get caught up in survival mode, says Gary, where motivation is enough to get you to your destination, just so that the company will survive. “But once survival is no longer at stake, then you really have to come up with something else,” he says.
“For me, I have not been able to clarify a nice, clean vision [yet]. There has been great value in the process of searching for that vision. It is that ‘why’ that I keep asking that has really stimulated this process. And that ‘why’ really does come out of searching for your [personal and company] vision.”
For now, Gary has brought in a COO, which will help the company evolve and continue to grow. “While I’m still the CEO, I can picture that there’ll be a period of time, a transition, where he will carry the flag more.” And, in the meantime, Gary says he will keep asking “Why?”
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