The Fifth Gate in the Pipeline: Managing a Business

By the time, we’ve gotten to the Fifth Gate in the Leadership Pipeline, we should have spent some quality time mastering the previous four. This gate is punctuated by enormous complexity and significant (perhaps the most significant of all the gates) changes in thinking. The Business Manager needs to come to terms with being highly visible; watched by customers, employees, managers and other stakeholders; and valuing all functions within the business appropriately.

As a Business Manager myself, I can verify the complexity table developed by Drotter Human Resources, Inc. and displayed on page 85 of The Leadership Pipeline. I’ve reproduced the table here so you can ponder one hundred elements found in most businesses.

I would specify a few more items from my own experience to include public speaking, follow up, prioritization, taxes, morale, motivation, and work/life balance. The Leadership Pipeline book refers to this table of complexity as an “avalanche of accountability.” I think that sums it up pretty well. Is it any wonder that business owners like me spend tens of thousands of dollars on coaching and mentoring?!

I didn’t take over an existing business. I decided to build a business from scratch, so I didn’t have to wrestle with some of the issues a corporate business manager (like an agency head or a corporate president) has to deal with – namely challenges from existing structures. While the book highlights the following questions as unique to the Fifth Gate, I would make an argument that managers at all levels deal with these questions to varying degrees:

  • Will the manager make it?
  • Will he change the strategy?
  • Can he get the resources we need?
  • Will he keep the team in place?
  • Will he change now that he has all the power?
  • Will he favor his old function?
  • Will he be too hands-on or not hands-on enough?
  • Will he be externally or internally focused?

I have worked with many business owners in my career. I was asked by my former companies to mentor business owners on the complexities of the federal contracting system and cultivate relationships with them so we could turn them into producing sub contractors – increasing our revenue. Today, I help many small business owners with their marketing and communications efforts. I’ve seen many who open a business because they are good at something, want to make money doing it, and want to be their own boss. Business owners who can not adapt and embrace the complexity of the entire business don’t get very far.

The Leadership Pipeline lists warning signs to help us identify those who are struggling with making the transition. You can read about each in more detail in the book:

  • Uninspired communication
  • Inability to assemble a strong team. This includes focusing on technology rather than on people.
  • Failure to grasp how the business can make money.
  • Problems with time management
  • Neglect of soft issues. This includes culture, feedback, organizational beliefs, etc.

I personally borrow from a model developed by Robert Kiyosaki called “the BI Triangle” to help me visualize the 8

major areas that every Business Owner needs to pay attention to. This model is not as daunting as the 100+ item list, and it helps me organize. I’ve reproduced a modified version of the graphic here, but you can read about each component in detail if you get one of his books (highly recommended).

The actual triangle developed by Robert Kiyosaki has “Cash Flow” as the bottom line in the inside portion of the triangle. It also has the word “Systems” instead of the word “Operations,” but that word “Systems” too often gets confused with Information Technology – not what is meant here. And the words “Cash Flow” don’t usually appeal to government employees. Government leaders can also substitute the word “Resources” for “Cash Flow” as the bottom line inside the triangle as I have done in this diagram.

By having an image of this triangle readily available, we can scan each of the areas and ask ourselves if we are strengthening each over time. One objective of a business manager is to work on the business more-so than “in” the business. We move from area to area and reply on the wisdom of experts in each of these areas to help us make them stronger.

I’d love to hear some other tips from other Business Manager / Owners / Agency Heads on how to manage complexity, the spot light, and the transition from previous stages of leadership.

What are YOUR thoughts on the subject of Business Management?

For other posts in this series, see:

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Andrew Krzmarzick

If you had to focus on just 5 of those 100 hundred elements, what do you see as the most important – the critical elements where a business manager should spend more time?

David Dejewski

That’s the key to this gate, Andy. Leaders at this level can not afford to narrow it down to five. They have to put everything on a radar sweep and keep checking on all of them. They are responsible for the entire business. If any one of these elements drops, the business could break down.

That said, time of the year, phase of a sales cycle, or stage of business growth will shift emphasis. This time of year, for example, taxes will take up more time than they will in June. Small businesses actively seeking funding will likely spend more time on plans and banking than businesses that just made a large sale.

Can I afford to say that the product or service is more important than following the law? Is legal compliance more important than tracking the money? Is tracking the money more important than operations? Is operations more important than marketing? They are ALL important and all need attention from the business manager.

Delegation and prioritization skills that we learned in earlier leadership phases are important. Looking at the triangle above, consider the idea that there should be a person assigned to each of the functions: Product / service, legal, operations, communications, and resources. On the civilian side, these are usually, VP or C level jobs: COO, VP for sales / marketing, Chief legal counsel, Comptroller or CPA, etc.

Everyone should be focused on leadership, on the team, and on the mission. Functional managers should focus on their functions.

The business manager must learn to share attention between all of these functions. If any one of them is neglected or becomes separated from the others, the entire business could be in jeopardy.