Your Business is in Orbit. Now What?
January 22nd, 2022
Most of us are familiar with the NASA space shuttle program. What we envision as the “space shuttle” is actually three separate pieces. First there is the “orbiter,” which is the piece that houses the crew and the scientific equipment. This is the part that will fly in space. Then there is the external fuel tank, which holds the fuel for lift off. Finally, there are the two solid rocket boosters that provide the shuttle’s lift at the beginning of flight.
Imagine the orbiter as the “business.” This is the part that houses the employees, products, and processes that make your business what it is. The goal is to make the business profitable (get it into orbit). Then I want you to think of yourself as the fuel tank and rocket boosters. You are the part of the business that has the explosive power to lift the orbiter off the ground and get it into orbit. So, here is what happens to so many entrepreneurs. They spend two to five years burning at full throttle to lift their business off the ground. After lots of long nights, seasons of grinding, and some very lean times, they finally get the business into orbit. Everything seems to be going well, but then shortly after the business is in orbit, the alarms start to go off and things start going sideways.
What happens is that most entrepreneurs have a case of mistaken identity. They think that they are sitting in the pilot’s seat of the shuttle delicately maneuvering the operations of the business, but in reality, most entrepreneurs do not have the ability to do much of anything delicately. Instead, they steer by adding more force to one side or another— why? —because that’s how rocket boosters work. So, the entrepreneur continues to exert the force that they were so used to employing during lift off, but the business is no longer in the atmosphere, where huge amounts of thrust are required. That’s when we begin to feel the ship groan under the stress of the boosters’ power and the ship begins to shake. You see, a new kind of propulsion is required to steer a ship that is in orbit. A more subtle, gradual, meticulous type of steering.
Here is what I need you to hear: transitioning is not quitting. If you are an entrepreneur who has built a business, you have completed your primary task. During liftoff, the company needed vision, brute force, and willpower. We call this type of leadership “visionary leadership.” However, now the company needs more developed systems, structures, and management. We call this type of leadership “executive leadership.”
If you are the visionary leader who got the company off the ground, but you are now frustrated with your business, it is likely that over time the requirements of the business have pulled you into more of an executive role rather than a visionary role. This frustration may be an indication that you are extremely gifted as a visionary and perhaps not as gifted as an executive. If your business is trying to move into the next part of the flight plan and you are not providing it with this new kind of executive leadership (either through yourself or through one of your managers), then some degree of turmoil and friction will occur.