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Business Lessons from the Billy Goat Trail

I recently had the opportunity to get away from my laptop and go hiking at the Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River.  Beautiful day, only a little bit of foot traffic and plenty of time to think (or not think), whichever way my mind felt like going.

As I began to traverse the trail, a theme started going through my mind.  I could clearly see how the trail was much like business.

Here’s how:

• There is no straight path.
There is no right or wrong.  There were blazes to follow, but it wasn’t an exact science.  I went right where some might have gone left.  I walked directly most times but strayed if I thought the view was interesting or if I wanted to see something that caught my eye.

Lesson: Others in your industry may have done it one way or another, but there are no absolute duplicates of success.  Do what works for you and your business.

• Everyone moves at their own pace.
I was easily passed by very seasoned hikers who had been there before.  I stepped aside and admired their skill.  But I also passed my fair share on the trail.  Those that stopped for a break between scrambles, those that were out of their comfort zones, those that were waiting for others.

Lesson: Set your own pace in business, don’t let others set it for you.  Do what’s right for the business, the cash flow, the employees, and the clients.

• Leading the way.
For some of the time, I led the way with my partner and navigated which rocks to climb and where to step.  Other times, he led the way.  In the end, we still chose different footings, different areas to ascend, but it was nice to be in both positions.  I thrived on finding the best place to stand/climb when I led.  I also enjoyed following in the path and spending more time being present.

Lesson: You don’t have to lead the competition all the time.  You need to lead when it’s important to you.  And even if you aren’t leading now, it doesn’t mean you won’t sometime soon.

• Horizontal versus Vertical.
As with any climbing and scrambling, you really must watch where you step and where you place your feet.  This means a lot of time looking down.  But you can’t be so focused on looking down that you don’t see the big picture, don’t see the path and don’t get to enjoy the scenery.

Lesson: You can’t be only inwardly focused, nor can you be solely outwardly focused.  Leaders tend to navigate to one area over the other, but your job is to be conscious of both.  Know when to put your head in the weeds and when to keep it above the forest.

Almost two hours out in nature, away from the worries of the business world is a great way to step back and refresh your entire outlook.

If you’d like help with your outlook, feel free to contact me (Stephanie) for executive coaching at [email protected]

Accidental CEO

What’s an accidental CEO?  Are you one?

You may or may not know the type.  They’ve spun out of government or a large integrator and had a good consulting gig as a 1099.  They are well connected with their customer (they used to be colleagues) and they deliver.  Since they can deliver, they are asked for additional resources.   They, in turn, hire their trusted network.  Within a few years, they’ve built a 10-20 person show churning $2-10M.

Everything is sunshine for a bit.  The SME/CEO is still billable, doing what they love.

Inevitably, the business side of the business rears up.  The SME finds themselves running a company of highly technical folks, spending most of their time on administrative tasks – cash flow projections, recruiting, contracts, minutia.  They spend less time on customer delivery and more on the day-to-day running of the company.  Their customer becomes frustrated as the SME can’t deliver the same level of service.  The employees become frustrated as their trusted colleague is always busy with other tasks and is often unavailable.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the SME-turned-CEO wakes up wondering how things got to this state.  They hate their day-to-day life.  They hate not delivering to the customer and find themselves questioning why they are running a company.

If this sounds like you, let me be the first to tell you the following:

  1. You are not alone, by a long shot
  2. It’s not uncommon at all
  3. You need to decide on your path forward before you completely lose it

There are several options that can move you out of this state, but before you can move forward, you have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you want out of your career and what success looks like to you.  For some, it’s a dollar figure in their checking account.  For others, it’s flexibility in working on high-value work.  Still for others, it’s in cultivating a culture that they want.  Regardless of the answer, knowing your definition of success can help guide your path.

Admittedly this is a difficult step to take (aren’t all first steps that way?). Luckily you don’t have to go it alone. BOOST has the resources, personnel, and experience to help guide you through this process. Whether it be executive coaching in the form of mentoring or strategic planning from a whole-business perspective, BOOST can help. Let’s sit down over coffee and discuss your next steps. [email protected]