This article is part of the series “If I Knew Then” by Crain’s.
High Alpha is the fourth company that I’ve started. I’ve been fortunate to grow and sell the other three to public companies. One of the mistakes that I made with my last company was not delegating tasks and getting things off my plate.
Looking back, we had a great team, a great company, but probably half of the things I was spending my time on as a CEO should have been done by my team. Instead, I held on to them out of passion — I enjoyed doing the things that I held onto — and partly out of wanting to keep control and partly out of a lack of trust.
I think it’s important that CEOs trust their teams and challenge themselves to stop doing half the things they’re currently doing.
Entrepreneurs do not move in a straight line, they zig and zag.
I stayed on with my last company after I sold it to a larger public company. All of a sudden, my little company of 60 employees was part of a 2,500-employee company. I was no longer able to manage the way I used to. The scale of the business prevented me from having my hands and fingers in everything, and I grew to realize that my old style limited the growth for our company. If I would have been more diligent about getting things off my plate, getting our team to do them, I would have opened up more capacity for myself and taken away a bottleneck to growth.
I learned that the hard way. As a CEO, you’re so quick to figure out how to optimize various parts of the business, but it’s much harder to look at optimizing yourself. The fastest path between two points is a straight line, but typically entrepreneurs do not move in a straight line, they zig and zag because they’re doing a lot of things that are new. Looking back, I wish I would have built a bigger network of mentors and more experienced entrepreneurs to draw from.
That’s part of what we’re trying to solve at High Alpha as we start these companies and bring entrepreneurs in to run them. We serve as a network, advisory board, as partners to help those entrepreneurs build their companies.
So I apply this lesson not only to my own work, but also to how I coach the entrepreneurs we hire to head the companies we create. They’re going to go through all the challenges that I went through as a CEO, and my job is to try to help them learn from the experiences I’ve had and ultimately to not make the same mistakes.
Follow Eric Tobias on Twitter @erictobiasIN.