Are You Constantly Navigating Your Ship (Business) From The Engine Room </br> Rather than the Fly Bridge? </br> (6 Actions To Keep You OUT Of The Engine Room)

The expression “work ON your business, not IN your business” has been over-used, so let’s create a new vision…

You are Captain of a modern cruise ship and standing on the fly-bridge, surrounded by an unobstructed view of the ocean, blue sky and the horizon.  You take pride in your 20 years of experience at sea – you know every inch of the ship intimately, and have sailed under every condition.  At your fingertips is a console with an array of modern navigation and communication equipment – everything at your disposal to keep the ship on course and operating efficiently.

You’ve just established your initial compass heading and are getting underway when you are summoned to the cargo hold to resolve a pay-load issue.  You head down to make sure the issue is resolved quickly to avoid having to return back to port.  Finding it to be a simple calculation error, you finally start heading back to the bridge an hour later.

You just get seated back on the bridge before being called down to the engine room to help assess excess vibration on one of the turbines.   Having started your career at sea as Chief Engineer, you know the engine room like the back of your hand and it always feels comfortable to be back ‘on the floor’.  The trouble-shoot takes a little longer than you anticipated, but you’re finally on your way back to the bridge.

The radio crackles with the First Officer’s voice asking you to proceed to the promenade deck to help with a customer complaint.   Your crew knows that you take pride in offering a personal touch to customers, and you’re just 5 minutes away.  After a brief discussion to address the concern, it’s agreed the First Officer will look after things so you can return to the bridge in time for docking at the ship’s first port-of-call.

As you enter back onto the bridge you realize that you’ve spent the majority of the day away from the bridge.  And you’re the Captain!  You also note that the blue sky has turned to dark grey, the horizon is bouncing with 4 meter waves, and it will take every bit of your skill to dock this ship safely.

Ever had a day like this in your business?  One distraction or issue after another – all adding up to almost no time ‘on the bridge’ running your business?  You’re not alone.

“As a Captain,
it’s impossible to navigate the ship from the engine room.
As a Business Owner,
it’s impossible to lead your business from the shop floor.”

Many owners spend an inordinate amount of time “in the engine room” working IN their business rather than LEADING their business.  You need to be able to see the horizon (market) to anticipate what’s coming and stay focused on the business to know how its performing and what needs adjusting.

6 Actions To Keep You Out Of The Engine Room!

  1. Cultivate a skilled, independent management team
    You can’t execute strategy and business with a team of one – not if you want to grow.  You may be skilled in every aspect of your business, but the sheer volume and complexity of work associated with growth will catch up to you before you know it.  Many owners learn the lesson after they’ve already become ‘buried’ in their business, when it’s doubly hard to catch up.  Anticipate the future needs of the business and plan an organized ‘build’ of a team with diversified skills that align with your growth aspirations.
  2. Engage and mentor your team
    I often use an analogy with business owners that “your son or daughter will never learn to drive the car if you won’t let them take the wheel.”   It’s often much easier to do something yourself rather than instruct or mentor someone else.   Replace “let me show you how” with “let me help you do it”.  Your protégés need the practical experience, will appreciate your direction and support, and will build their confidence and independence.
  3. Delegate responsibility with earned authority
    The biggest barriers to delegation are i) lack of ‘trust or confidence’ (in the individual, or the process) and ii) ‘pride’ (no one can do it as well as you can).   And yes, while your team members have to earn your trust and their authority, it is your responsibility to foster that trust and set them up for success.  Your confidence to delegate to team members will only happen with their proper training, developed competency (experience), and demonstrated acumen.
  4. Ensure processes are in place and followed
    Documenting your knowledge and expertise into written processes converts ‘individual’ skills into “company” skills that can be used and improved by others.  Procedures ensure consistent process, quality and outcome, while providing clarity and accountability.  They are essential for proper training and reference, while reducing instruction time, non-compliance, supervision, miscommunication and rework.  They increase in importance as your business grows and expands.  Document every new process as a template, and keep on improving it every time it is used.
  5. Become a resource to those in your area of expertise
    Most owners have a skill or activity where they feel most comfortable or have a natural bias, often their area of training or natural skill – sales, production, technical, or specialized knowledge or skill.   It can be a challenge to relinquish or delegate that activity to someone else without looking over their shoulder.  Similarly, it can be intimidating to the individual doing the job knowing your high level of interest and (likely) scrutiny.  Become a mentor and a resource rather than a micro-manager or critic – you have lots to do elsewhere in the business!
  6. Maintain clear focus on the horizon and highest-impact actions
    People generally perform better and achieve more when working as a team towards a common goal.  The most direct path to the goal is to prioritize and orchestrate resources on the ‘highest impact’ actions towards the goal and to maintain focus through disciplined and sustained action.  Budgeting appropriate time and resources on ‘highest-impact’ will keep you out of the engine room and focused on the horizon.

Every business is constrained by limited time, money, resources or skills.  Business reality dictates that the majority of owners need to periodically spend time in the ‘engine room’ – however that is defined for your business  – whether to help out, give direction, resolve an issue, check on progress, or recognize employee effort.   The challenge is achieving the right balance.  Your goal should be to visit the engine room out of choice, not necessity.  You’re needed up on the bridge Captain!

Be Bold, Think Big, Be Curious, Keep Focused

Our Next 3-Hr Business Owner/Leader Round Table & Workshop:

Simplified Strategy & Business Execution, April 20th a.m., Mississauga.  Register here.


About Doug Osborne

Doug Osborne is creator of The Success Dashboard Execution Platform© - a simple, practical and visual subscription-based online execution platform that is proven to accelerate business execution and performance for business owners and leaders, literally within hours. With over 35 years business success, Doug is an experienced business coach, speaker, writer, and strategy facilitator working primarily with small and medium-sized family businesses on improved & sustained business execution for accelerated growth, improved performance, successful transition or higher-value sale.