Most founders never make it this far. Some never leave the field in Stage 2 or 3. Some never lead the sidelines in Stage 4. And some never let go of the reigns in Stage 5. In any case, they may own their organization from a legal standpoint, but if you look close enough, you’ll see that their organization owns them. It dictates how they structure their week, when they go on vacation, and who they speak with regularly. A business can be, and often is, a handsomely paying but cruel manager.
And that’s not something most of us want to admit as founders. In fact, we started our own organization for the exact opposite reason. We started it for the freedom and autonomy we’ve always wanted. And sure, you may not have a boss. You may have even tasted that freedom from time to time, but it never lasts. Not until Stage 6.
Stage 6 of your Founder’s Evolution is the first time you actually get what started this whole journey in Stage 1 and drove you to become a Dissatisfied Employee: freedom.Stage 6 of your Founder's Evolution is the first time you actually get what started this whole journey in Stage 1 and drove you to become a Dissatisfied Employee: freedom. Click To Tweet
In Stage 6, you become a True Owner, and it is wonderful. The problem, however, is most founders never make it here, and those who do give so much by this point just want out. And by getting out early, they come up short of that freedom they wanted all along. Of course, they achieve a version of freedom by selling, but that freedom pales in comparison to the joy of owning a thriving business without having to run it.
Owning the game
I grew up in the Pittsburgh area. I root for the Steelers. The Pirates are ok. But I love the Penguins. And that was a good time to be rooting for the Pens, who won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships led by their Captain, Mario Lemieux. I still remember I picked the number 66 for my little league jersey the year that he retired (the first time). Lemieux bought the team in an interesting turn of events and returned to the NHL as the first-ever Player-Owner. But from then until his final retirement in 2006, the team failed to ever make it to the championship game.
However, it was then that he finally got to taste being a true owner. He drafted the superstar Sidney Crosby, hired Ray Shero to Manage the team and let them work their magic. Since stepping off the ice, Lemieux and his team have enjoyed three more championship victories.
Think about that for a second. Lemieux won more championships as an owner than as a player. And he didn’t have to make a single shot, block a single shot, or serve even one minute in the penalty box.
That’s what it’s like to be a True Owner. You get to enjoy the game and achieve substantially greater success with only a fraction of the individual effort.
What do I do now?
If you’re not careful, it can feel like you’re being left behind. When you stroll down to watch the team practice, some players don’t even recognize you. Then, when you watch the star player score and everyone cheers, if you’re honest, there’s a slight sting in your own heart.
And that sting becomes a reality in the question, “What do I do now?”
As the Chief Executive, you felt this same way, but there was an answer. Do what only you can do.
However, as a true owner, that doesn’t work anymore. Because there is not much you can do that someone else isn’t already doing and doing it better than you (at least now).
Some of the joy of true ownership can be lost in the sting of this question. And this is why it was so important back in Stage 5 to answer the question, “Who am I?” It is easier to do in Stage 5 because you have some responsibility to keep you distracted and take the edge away.
But here in Stage 6, you realize there’s only so much golf you can play, your kids (or grandkids) only want you around so much, and your spouse is on you to get a hobby and get out of the house.
And while all these realities are perfectly understandable, they only make the question scream even louder, “What do I do now?”
Don’t rush the process forward
I’ve tried not to talk too much about previous stages in each article, but here and now, it’s crucial to revisit Stage 5. Many founders I speak to in Stage 5 are ready to get out. They can see the freedom of Stage 6. They feel the pain and discomfort of learning the new skills needed to succeed in Stage 5. They lament the good ‘ole days of earlier stages. And they just want out. And so what do they do? They rush things along, find the first decent CEO to take the reins, flash a peace sign, and walk out the door.
And that’s a problem. Because what they’ve done is walk away from something instead of stepping into something. You only want to step into Stage 6 when you no longer see it as an escape but an opportunity to take on your next challenge or start a new journey. And so, before you ever find yourself in the position of asking, “What do I do now?” ask yourself the question, “What do I want to do next?”
Resist the temptation to go backward
You’ll remember from the previous article that the triggering event that transitions you from Chief Executive to True Owner is hiring a new Chief Executive. But hiring a new CEO the right way is a much bigger transition than most of us would expect. Not so much for the title or the day-to-day, but the role of Visionary. No one else has ever had the primary vision for the organization other than you. Once you hand over that level of leadership, you will typically feel a void. What do you do with your new ideas, innovations, and inspiration? Quickly you’ll feel like a sponge that has more water in it than it knows what to do. There will be a backlog and buildup that will tempt you to wield your owner’s card and take back control of the wheel. Don’t do that. It will only hurt you and everyone else involved. If you’re going to be the visionary, fine, but that means stepping back into the chief executive seat and not only having the vision but seeing it come to pass.
And that can be done. Steve Jobs did it with Apple. Michael Dell did it as well. It can work exceptionally well if you pair the rights of the role with the responsibilities of the role. If we’re honest, most of the time, that’s not what we want to do. We want to swoop and poop. We want to blow in with our brilliant idea and blow out. And when we aren’t careful or honest about what we’re doing, guess what happens. We unknowingly end up blowing past Stage 5 and back to Stage 4 or even Stage 3. Interestingly enough, that’s what Mario did in 2000.
And the cost of going back to Stage 3 is that to get back to the freedom of Stage 6, you have to succeed in Stage 3 again, then succeed in Stage 4 again, and then succeed in Stage 5 again.
The essential strategies for Stage 6
And that brings us to the essential strategies for Stage 6. These three strategies will help you thoroughly answer the question, “What do I do now?” in a way that will fire you up and set an exciting new course for the days ahead.
1. Get inspired
An uninspired visionary is scary and usually a miserable person. The first thing you need to do is make sure you are inspired to do something meaningful and valuable. Sure play more golf, go on more vacations, spend more time with the grandkids, but weave into all that activity something that truly inspires you and drives you.
2. Build a sandbox (or two)
Now, you have to be careful when you get inspired. In the past, when you were inspired, what did you do? You ran into the office eyes aglow, just looking for someone to share your new idea with and send them off to execute. You can’t do that as an owner. So what do you do? You need to scratch that visionary itch, and the best way to do it is to build a sandbox (or two). Volunteer for a local nonprofit, sit on the board of a new startup, invest in a new business, or help scale an existing one. The common (and necessary) thread to all of these endeavors is that none of them touch your existing enterprise. You can even start a new business of your own. However, when you do, consider what stage you will do it from. Someone has to start the new organization back at Stage 1. That someone maybe you. But more often than not, it isn’t.
3. Empower visionaries
And that brings us to the last point. When you transitioned from Stage 5 to Stage 6, you learned what it takes to empower and lead a visionary leader. This is a rare skill to hold. And it’s an exceptionally powerful skill that you can use to scale your impact (and your income) in ways that you could not previously imagine. If you got to Stage 6 the right way, the greatest asset you have is not your money (though you have plenty of it); it is your ability to lead visionaries.
Transitioning Out of Stage 6
And it is that ability that separates True Owners from those who sell. Both have money and time, but only the True Owner has the skill and ability to expand their impact by leading, coaching, mentoring, and partnering with visionaries.
And that’s what it takes to become a Visionary Founder, the Hall of Fame player in the business world. The accumulation of all the skills and abilities you’ve learned at all six stages so far has prepared you for the most rewarding season of all as you step into the role of the guide who has been down this same road before and can help new founders travel the road more quickly and painlessly than you. That is a truly remarkable thing to do, and only truly remarkable people get the opportunity to do it!
Enjoy the gift of Stage 6
But once again, before you get too excited about the next stage, the next thing, and the next challenge, take some time to enjoy where you are right now. Take more time as you do the simple things in life. Walk slowly and pay attention to the songs of the birds, the warmth of the sun, and the gentleness of the breeze. Eat slowly and take in the textures and flavors and the companionship of friends you’ve been blasting through all these years. Laugh a lot. Do what you enjoy. And rest because you’re going to want to have your energy stored up for when you hit the ground running in Stage 7 of your Founder’s Evolution, and you make your indelible and unforgettable mark in the world!