I didn’t start a business because I was excited about managing people.
I wasn’t dreaming of hiring a team while I was writing blog posts in the stolen moments between nursing my baby and nap times.
Truth be told, I’m still not excited about managing people–although, I do dream about hiring more often. Yet, here I am–managing 5 people between 2 companies.
If I had to pin down the biggest lessons that I’ve learned about building a business, I think they might all have to do with the relationships I have with my team members.
Which is not to say that I have it all figured out! But boy oh boy, do I approach things differently than I used to.
This week, we’re examining how we nurture the relationships we have with the people who work with us.
I’ll be honest with you: there are so many different places I’d like to take this episode. There are so many of the lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on. Luckily, the lessons I’ve learned have largely come through conversations I’ve had on this very podcast!
And there’s one conversation in particular that I come back to time & time again. It was my first interview with my friend and founder of Productive Flourishing, Charlie Gilkey.
Looking back on this conversation, I can see that there were already lessons that had started to come into focus about how I work with people and what it looks like to nurture relationships with team members. But what I can also see is how much this conversation actually helped to solidify those learnings into how my thinking & approach have changed since.
Before we get to that conversation, though, I wanted dig into a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot and writing about some—and that’s the value of maintenance work. I think any discussion of the relationships we build with our team members needs to acknowledge that some of the most important work that gets done in our businesses is often under-appreciated and undervalued.
And I want to make sure that we approach this topic with the shared understanding that it’s not a conversation about delegating or handing off work you don’t want to do. It’s a conversation about team-building, management, and relationship-building—and to do any of those things effectively, we have to get comfortable with the value of maintenance work.
We need to get more comfortable with contributing our fair share to maintenance work—because yes, entrepreneurs and CEOs have maintenance work to do. And, we have to get comfortable with recognizing the contribution that the people who do maintenance work with us make to the overall health of our businesses.
Because, there are some really harmful things that happen with hiring & management in small businesses.
There are low wages, weird power dynamics, and the mislabeling of workers. There’s abuse, unrealistic expectations, and boatloads of scope creep.
It happens in restaurants, in corner stores, and in accounting firms. And, yes, it happens in coaching businesses, marketing agencies, and online course companies.
The problem is that many of us have put the work we do as business owners on a pedestal and see all of the other work—the maintenance work—as beneath us.
Whether it’s customer service or project management or formatting content or organizing files, we delegate maintenance work to people whose time we don’t see as as valuable as ours. Then, we use our quote-unquote valuable time to be constantly making new things and breaking old things. We disrupt and innovate and create—and avoid letting well enough alone for any period of time.
While there’s a perception that the hero-entrepreneurs of our day are wildly creative and spontaneously genius, the opposite is actually true. They’re thorough, meticulous, and careful. They have to be—the calculated risks they take require a solid foundation.
They’re invested in maintenance work. But because we undervalue maintenance work as a culture, we have to glamorize their stories and make them out to be mad scientists or unpredictable artists. And, at the same time, we ignore the work of the people who carry out the entrepreneurs’ visions.
Social media has now glamorized the small business owner, too.
It’s given us the impression that the work of building a business is the time spent on stages, posing for photo shoots, and masterminding in exotic locations. But that’s not the work of building a business—there’s a lot of maintenance and care that goes into running a business, even if you’re entrepreneur.
Bringing people into your business to help with admin or marketing or project management doesn’t free you up to work on the “real” stuff. Building a team means you’re gathering support to work with you on the real stuff—the maintenance and care work.
It’s difficult to nurture your relationship with someone whose work you’re constantly making harder by disrupting things. It’s impossible to have a good working relationship with someone who’s work you believe is beneath you.
To develop a strong relationship with the people on your team, you actually have to be a part of the team, too.
Your business isn’t about you and the time you have to follow your whims. It’s bigger than that.
Your business is a vehicle that can benefit everyone involved, meet needs for all parties, and celebrate the value of everyone’s contribution. But that’s going to require some critical thinking about how we approach team-building in the first place.
Which brings us back to my conversation with Charlie Gilkey.
Charlie and I talk about the operational components of the mindset shift I just dug into. We talk about the art of management, whether for one or for many. We discuss what prompted him to bring his core team on as employees instead of as independent contractors. And how we keeps his team—and himself—from becoming over committed and overwhelmed, as well as how he structures his time to enhance his creativity.
Now, let’s find out What Works for Charlie Gilkey.