Why I’m a Lousy Business Leader at My Small Business

Gene Marks

I run a ten-person company. My company is profitable and has continued to provide a good livelihood for myself and my family for more than two decades.

You can call me a small business owner.

But please, don’t call me a leader.

I’m not a leader because I’m not very good with people. I can be outgoing when needed. But in reality, I’m an introvert. I prefer to be in front of my computer screen. Or reading a book or watching TV. I’d rather have lunch by myself and my newspaper than with others.

Leaders are people-persons.

They enjoy being around others. They thrive on relationships. They surround themselves with teams of advisers and are always looking for others to complement their efforts. They have people with them all the time. They know that to achieve their goals they need the help of others. And they embrace this.

These are qualities that I don’t have.

I’m not a leader because I don’t have a mission. I don’t believe that my company, a technology services firm, is changing the world. I don’t believe that what we’re doing is anything that special or earth-shattering.  Sure, we provide a valuable service. But get over it – it’s not exciting stuff.

We implement customer relationship management systems. We train people. We customize software. There are many other companies like us. And there will be many others long after we’re gone. My people are happy doing this, but no one feels that what we’re doing is that important. And that’s because I don’t make it seem important. Leaders do. They make everyone feel important and that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. They have goals, missions and objectives that not only give credence to their businesses but meaning to people’s lives. My aspirations are not that lofty. I just want to provide a good service and put some money in the bank.

I’m not a leader because I lack confidence.

I’ve been running my business for more than 20 years and half the time I still don’t think I know what I’m doing. We still have failed projects, unhappy clients, unprofitable jobs and miscommunications. I keep making the same mistakes over and over. I still get angry when I lose a sale and emotional when a client doesn’t pay. I look at my backlog and, as always, I have no idea if there will be any work for my company after the next 120 days and that terrifies me. I’m still a horrible judge of character and an awful negotiator. Everyone seems to know more than me and have greater self-confidence. Maybe they’re just really good fakers. Or maybe I’m just a lousy leader because I not only lack the self-confidence to lead, but I’m bad at hiding it.

Finally, I’m not a leader because I don’t aspire to be. Great leaders are always looking to grow, be better, achieve greater things and personally develop into broader human beings. Me?  I just want to have a beer and watch Game of Thrones. I don’t seek personal improvement. I don’t desire to become any more of an expert than I already am. I don’t go on retreats, outward-bound adventures or team building excursions. I don’t read Machiavelli or even Tony Robbins. I don’t have any desire to manage an army of people, crush my competition or take over the universe.

I’m quite happy running a little tech firm near Philly, playing softball on Sundays and sitting on a park bench with my wife like the old couple we seem to be. I like this. I’m happy with my lot in life. I have little desire to change it. Leaders are always looking to get ahead, change things, move to the next level.

Once I get comfy on the sofa, I’m barely able to move at all.

So yeah, I’m not much of a leader. I’m just a business owner.  What about you?

Join writer and small business owner Gene Marks each Wednesday on the Small Biz Ahead podcast. You can submit a question for Gene to answer on the podcast.

7 Responses to "Why I’m a Lousy Business Leader at My Small Business"

    • Darryl Parker | November 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Why Gene Marks is a leader while watching Game of Thrones and drinking beer:

      1. He took the risk of being an owner instead of an employee even though he may have settled into employee mode lately. Risk taking and risk management are inherent traits of leadership.

      2. His business has lasted (or scratched by) for 20 years. Against the odds, any business that has endured for 20 years has taken someone’s back and mind to support. Many (most?) businesses fail simply because the founders quit. Persistence and tenacity are teeth of leadership.

      3. He employs 10 people. Less than 4% of ALL businesses employ 5 or more employees. Statistically to be in the top 3% or 4% of any category makes you a leader in that category. Hooray math.

      4. Much like the star of his entertainment choice, Gene drinks and knows things. And he isn’t quiet about it all. While he’s being entertained, he’s processing and thinking of how he’s going to share his wealth of knowledge. He wrote this article. He writes books. He shares, teaches and inspires much like most leaders you know.

      5. And yet, he can still question his leadership efficacy and style. He’s humble. Like the best leaders you know.

      Enjoy the beer Gene. And might I suggest Westworld as your next bingeworthy series.


    • Elizabeth Larkin | November 16, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks for comment Darryl. We agree that Gene is a Rock Star. – Elizabeth Larkin

    • Wayne Siefert | November 18, 2016 at 12:05 am

      Great article, as usual, Gene. I share a lot of your pains, challenges, and successes. We should get together for a beer sometime! Best wishes.

    • Bibhu R. Misra | December 13, 2016 at 4:06 am

      Wow! Genes article read like s page out of my life!! The only difference is that Ove only been in business for 12 years. I feel like I’m nof alone. Thanks for the article.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 14, 2016 at 9:54 pm

        Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s a great topic, and as much about work/life balance as leadership.

    • Don Welch | December 14, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      I call myself a “reluctant leader” – in my kids’ Scout troops, in church, in business. I once told a colleague I’d rather be an assistant. He said “Oh yeah, everyone wants to be the assistant.” It’s the leader who everyone depends on; providing livelihoods for however many employees in a small business is no small responsibility. Doing it for years is a notable accomplishment!
      I think anyone who has succeeded for at least a few years in a small business probably is always asking if there isn’t a better way – to build something, or buy something, or deal with someone. It’s as natural as the risk-taking we’re all known for. Not being sure you’re doing everything the best way – that humility is characteristic of the best business men and women I know.
      After 45 years in business, I’m happy with our shop the way it is. I sometimes wonder why we couldn’t just keep it the same as it is today, so we could work everything out and know how to deal with every problem that comes along. Can we really only grow or die? But if we look back 5 or 10 years, we’re always amazed at how far we’ve come. And we always seem to be working on a few improvements, fixing up the office, or building a new testing machine.
      It’s really nice to read of a business person who isn’t bragging about making a million dollars a week; one who has a life outside of work, and believes that taking time for himself, his family, and even the occasional beer are important. I’ll have to read some more of Gene’s work.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | December 14, 2016 at 9:52 pm

        Thanks for your comments Don. Sounds like you have a healthy perspective on this topic!

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