Learn It Yourself So You Can Manage It

Entrepreneur Business Village Dubai in the night.
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Curiously, I know an entrepreneur just starting out that believes it’s best to delegate everything even with two employees and a small amount of angel funding. To him, it’s imperative that he always be available to answer questions and act as traffic manager for the different projects in motion. That’s right: with no customers, no product launched, and no business yet being an entrepreneur is about managing and not doing to him.

I don’t know about you but the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met are the kind of guys and gals that roll up their sleeves and make stuff happen. It’s in their blood — they can’t help but be productive.

Here’s another aspect of entrepreneurship that isn’t talked about: you should learn enough yourself to be dangerous so that you can manage someone else doing it. How many times have you heard a sales rep complain that the sales manager doesn’t know what they are doing because they’ve haven’t been in sales themselves? How about software engineers complaining that management doesn’t understand technology? When you learn it, and especially if you master it, you become a much better manager of it.

Entrepreneurs are often a jack of all trades, master of one (not none) type person. Being able to pick up a variety of different skills so that you can make better decisions and be a better manager helps out tremendously. Entrepreneurs often have one thing they’re good at and spend a decent percentage of their time doing it (e.g. sales, marketing, product management, engineering, etc). Now, you should still play to your strengths and not spend too much time on your weaknesses (your unique ability). My recommendation is to get dirty and learn as much as you can. You’ll be better off for it.

What else? What other thoughts do you have on learning stuff so you can manage others doing it?


37 thoughts on “Learn It Yourself So You Can Manage It

  1. This blog reminds me of what brought me to Atlanta years ago – a rotational program at Turner that took 5 young people through all the divisions and major departments of the company over the course of a year. (of course this ages me because this was pre-Time Warner!) The experience getting your hands dirty in multiple areas is invaluable and I’m disappointed that there aren’t many of these programs around anymore. I always thought it would be cool to have an entrepreneur rotational program where aspiring entrepreneurs could rotate through the key areas of a growing start-up (cold calling, bug testing, cashflow analysis, etc.) . Regardless, I agree that you just have to go for it and dive in. I can’t think of learning any other way (or should I say – surviving any other way).

  2. Major supporter of this school of thought. I’ve always said, “if I don’t feel the pain myself, how will I know what kind of person I need to do the job?” Plus… let’s face it… getting dirty is alot more fun.

  3. A link to a great post by Dennis Crowley at Foursquare. He was not a coder, but still built the first version himself. He also mentions your previously mentioned preference for prototypes over wireframes. http://b.qr.ae/hP9k3l

  4. The whole “jack of all trades, master of none” descriptor applies here, I think: Many entrepreneurs I know are incredibly adept at a wide range of aspects of business. They find the right people to be the “experts” or “masters,” then they go to work doing all different functions with their own brand of gusto!

  5. I agree with what you stated, “I don’t know about you but the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met are the kind of guys and gals that roll up their sleeves and make stuff happen.” If you can keep a mindset that you have to work hard NO MATTER HOW SUCCESSFUL you become, then you’re good to go. Enjoyed the article.

  6. I am learning alot in computer class by a nice lady named jennifer at the Alliance Of Disability Advocates in Raleigh thru Fellowship Health Resources in Cary, NC. Frank is our Facilitator.

  7. Your blog mirrors the premise behind the “Undercover Boss” show. The owner/CEO/boss needs to get in the trenches with his/her employees to understand what he/she is asking of them. As a small business consultant, I see many clients who are undecided about what business to go into. I advise them to choose a business they are proficient at and passionate about. I see many people who want to hire employees to do the work, while they manage the company and “get rich.”

  8. Great article, I agree with all your points as in the current being Jack of all Trades helps a lot in every aspect(field). Although one should master a set of skills as it helps in getting to know other aspects which should be learned or given extra time upon even to become a Jack in it.
    Thanks for sharing it.


  9. Great point; I often think of this when we’re told to adopt and utilize a new program by someone who’s never tried it and will never use it. Grrr.

    Congrats on FP; well deserved, MJ

  10. The learning curve is tremendous and the sheer amount that there is to do is amazing, but it is very worth learning the ins and outs of your own business.

    Personally, I would love handing over the daily books to a bookkeeper, but with two of us running a fine art painting business (the Norwegian Artist paints; the Polish Siren manages), this job lands still squarely in my lap. Not a bad thing, though, as I have the daily pulse of commerce in my psyche, and I know more immediately what works and what doesn’t.

    As businesses grow, they unfortunately grow in management, which, as you observe, frequently has no experience in actually “doing” anything. I find it amazing that anyone with a small business of under five people thinks that he can get away with sitting at a desk and “managing.”

    It feels good to be grubby at the end of the day, tired, and yet satisfied with hours well invested in honest labor — both mental and physical.

  11. I think being a people person, able to “listen” and empathize with others is huge in managing. You need to be firm, but also not demean your employees. Great article!

  12. David;

    This is the first time I read your blog, and it will be well shared with my granddaughter.

    Your advice is so true for students stepping into the word of business or life any where. Looking forward to reading your following blogs.


  13. “What other thoughts do you have on learning stuff so you can manage others doing it?”

    I learned the hard way that that’s not the way most businesses work. I actually opted to start at a lower level management position because I was changing careers and had never worked retail before. Now I know retail very well, and am stuck training know-nothing’s fresh out of college.

  14. I LOVE this article! Currently, I am trying to learn everything about creating sites/gaming. I want to have as much knowledge in creating a site(And maybe get my site off the ground) that when I ask for help, I understand what they are doing and can fix the problems without always having someone else to do it.

  15. I am kind of a jack of all trades and have built and run two businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Being somewhat pensive and cautious and polite in my handling of others, I have had to learn the hard way that when you manage staff, you must MANAGE staff. Not hope they will do what you want and maybe respect you, after all you are in charge, right? No, not right at all. I learned not only by running businesses but also by starting and running small groups socially, that people need to be managed in group situations. They don’t manage themselves. For example, in a nice little social group, suddenly you may begin to notice that a clique is developing, and the members of the clique…maybe a third of your group…are cutting themselves off from maybe the rest, and for sure from you. You wonder what’s happening. But it’s only a little dinner group, right? What can go wrong? The whole group can disintegrate with artificially created hostilities as members are allowed to clique themselves off from the main group and show disrespect for ANY of the other members. From bitter experience, I know that the situation must always be addressed, whatever it is, and being polite and friendly won’t cut it. If you have a troublemaker at work or in a social group…same difference. Get the problems on the table and face the fact that in all likelihood you may have to send some folk on their way. There are polite ways of doing that: e.g.: I notice that you seem to be very irritable with the waiting staff and sometimes are downright insulting to them and sometimes to others. What’s going on with you? The answers will range from the confrontational to the amazing (well, you know by now I should be a grandmother and playing with my grandchildren and my sons just won’t get married, I am so alone nowadays, no wonder i am angry). You go on to discuss how people feel when they are insulted, gently suggesting this problem is serious. (OK then, maybe I should just quit the group, ok???) And of course they don’t think you will agree, but you say, well, maybe that would be best. So that way, they push themselves out, but you have properly and competently addressed the problem. They are gone. Whatever it is, I found at long last, the person perceived as being in-charge has to address it and manage the people concerned. For everyone’s sake. I learned this the hard way, just passing on my experience a bit. Not easy but worth learning. V.

  16. Good stuff here! I totally agree with knowing as much as you can about your own business before “managing others.” I mean, I’m not saying that you should be a “expert” in every aspect of your business, but you should definitely know the basics (how to get it started yourself). And something else I’ve learned–through observation–is you definitely have to be the hardest worker out of everyone in your business. When your employees see you busting your ass day in and day out ,it’ll motivate them to work that much harder.


  17. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had to teach myself many things to broaden my skill set, and make my life easier in general. I wanna get in there and do it right, not watch! Great post 🙂

  18. I totally agree with you. I know managers that were not only clueless to how their employees should be doing things, but, also, lost when their key employees weren’t there to do their job because of illness or unexpected emergencies. I, personally, wouldn’t want to be that dependent on an employee of mine if I were the manager. It just makes them look totally inept when they are stumbling around trying to figure out how to do something. However, on the flip side, the ones that know about every aspect of their business appear confident and project leadership.

    Nice post!

  19. Thank you so much for posting this. I have worked for a couple of companies where the “president” felt this way. They took personal days while I was back in the office handling the problems and making sure that everything was done on time and properly while building customer relationships. In the end I became the jack of all trades, which I really appreciate. But you do lose respect for the person who should be responsible but only “delegates” it to an employee. It makes them look incompetent a lot of times.

  20. Last night I watched the movie ‘The Social Network’. Absolutely awesome movie by the way. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur, if anything, just for the inspiration. There were two very successful entrepreneurial characters portrayed in the movie: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and Sean Parker the founder of Napster. Interestingly, both of these successful people exhibited similar traits in their drive, enthusiasm and ability to make things happen. In the end it was their combination of talents that ultimately led Facebook to its speedy success. Sometimes you do need to delegate specific tasks to others who have strengths in that area (Zuckerberg with his technical knowledge and ideas development and Parker with his marketing expertise and connections).

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