With all of the CEOs I’ve worked with, one of the biggest challenges they face is themselves. In other words, they get in their own way and micromanage their teams. It’s a hard habit to break since they are used to handling so many responsibilities when they first started the company. But as their company grows, they have to start giving up more responsibilities to their employees. Micromanaging your team sends the wrong message and creates a toxic atmosphere. If you want your company to grow, you must create an atmosphere conducive to growth.

Build the right team

The first step is to hire the right people, then groom, and develop them. When you’re confident in your team, you feel comfortable stepping back. Stepping back allows you to spend more time providing strategy, vision, and passion for the organization. What you SHOULD be doing!

The CEO is the visionary, and shouldn’t focus on the daily operational miniscule tasks. I know, easier said than done – and I’ve been guilty of it myself over the years. It all comes down to building the right team, and believing they can do the job.

Loosen your grip

The rock band .38 Special has a song entitled “Hold on Loosely,” which talks about a girl, who’s affectionately known as “baby.” As the song relates to business, think of the “baby” as your company and employees that drive it. I know for a fact that CEOs of small- to medium-sized companies think of their company as their “baby.”

Just hold on loosely but don’t let go

If you cling too tightly

You’re gonna lose control

Your baby needs someone to believe in

And a whole lot of space to breathe in

It’s so damn easy

When your feelings are such

To overprotect her

To love her too much

 — .38 Special, “Hold On Loosely”

CEOs need to hold on of course, but “loosely.” You can still have control, but delegate most of the work. Have meetings, checkpoints, or dashboards to keep you aware of what’s going on with your “baby.”

Allow your team to flourish

If you cling too tightly, you are going to lose control because you are telling your people you don’t believe in them. What’s more, they can’t breathe because you are stifling their creativity. Your company simply can’t grow if you don’t give your employees space to learn and grow.

Just as an expert jockey knows when to loosen the reigns a bit to let the horse run hard and be a winner, your team needs to know they can run and do great things for your company too.

Keep your A-players happy

The biggest detriment from micromanaging is that you’ll lose your A-players, and be stuck with B and C-players. You don’t want that to happen. Every successful company is filled with A-players…spend the bulk of your time with THEM, train your B-players too, and work those C-players OUT!

At one of my previous jobs, I had a micromanaging boss. I once wrote an assignment for him, and he recommended changes. I incorporated the changes, and resubmitted. He then changed HIS changes back to my original submission. “Why am I wasting my time?” I thought. I was so miserable and frustrated with his leadership style, that I couldn’t take it anymore and eventually left the company.

Just remember this:  OVER protecting your company — your baby — will only stop it from growing, much like “helicopter parents” stifle their children’s growth. Starting TODAY, “Hold on Loosely”, but don’t let go. With the right grip, watch your people and your “baby” grow beyond your wildest dreams!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don Barnes of .38 Special came up with the title. It was something he heard Dinah Shore say on her talk show when she had a guest on talking about giving her husband space in their relationship.  Speaking about the range of influences that show up in this song, co-writer Jim Peterik said: “The bridge was straight out of the Doobie Brothers songbook. If I look at that song, it’s kind of a meld of a lot of influences of mine from that time. The eighth notes are very Cars-like from that time and the bridge was “What a Fool Believes” upside down.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/38_Special_%28band%29

WEBSITE: http://38special.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLIerfXuZ4

“You’re not the same person I interviewed!” “Who are you, and what did you do with him/her?”

This is a painful situation for a CEO. You’ve had a big hole in your executive team, you find someone you think is the answer to all of your problems, and it happens. You realize this person isn’t who you thought they were. They either don’t have the skills you thought they did, or maybe they came from a larger company and you thought they’d be able to adjust to your small business…but they are used to having a staff and haven’t had to roll up their sleeves and do some of the work themselves vs. delegating to a staff like they used to do.

Sometimes you find that they aren’t a culture fit or even worse…they are downright toxic!

So, what happened…how did you miss it during the interview(s) and “dating stage”? That question reminds me of The Who’s famous rock song:


Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

‘Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)


— The Who, “Who Are You?”

Tips for Finding the Right Fit

The biggest reason companies get stuck with the wrong employee is that they don’t interview the right way. I’ve seen executives glance over the over the resume five minutes beforehand, and ask questions solely based on the job description. You’re destined for failure with that method.

Instead, you should put some time and effort into devising questions that will aid your company in finding the ideal personnel fit. Shift the focus away from where they worked and went to school, to answering the following questions:

  • Does this candidate fit in with your company’s culture? Try this. Write down you company’s core values. Now ask the prospect how they exhibited one of your core values at one of their prior employers. By the way, this is also a great tool for your EXISTING employees…have them mention in weekly meetings how they exhibited a corporate core value in the past week or how one of their peers did.
  • What exactly does your company need the candidate to do? Tell them you want them to increase sales by 10% in 12 months, or increase margins by 5%, or cut expenses by 3% while still delivering at least the same number of widgits with the same or higher customer satisfaction ratings. Get specific…and make them MEASURABLE!
  • What has the candidate done in the past that can apply to the job today? Get specific and go deep! Ask the candidate what they’ve done that is exactly or very near the same type of work or same deliverables YOU need from them. And, find out what their role was. Did they come up with the idea, lead the team, do the actual deliverable themselves, or what? Don’t stop digging until you know exactly what their role was in it.
  • If the candidate hasn’t done a similar task in the past, then how would they handle a common situation that arises in your company? Sometimes, they haven’t done EXACTLY what you need them to do, but something similar. See how creative they are.

You can listen to their thought processes during the interview and determine if they would be a right fit for your team. If you don’t consider how they play a role in the bigger picture and how they will interact with your current team, then you could end up with an employee who feels like a stranger.

The interview is just the beginning. You need to have a good onboarding process too. Keep your eyes and ears open to see how they interact with you, their peers, and the people who work for them. If you find out early on it’s not the right fit, at least you know now and not months or years down the road. The old saying for small businesses especially…”Hire slowly and fire quickly.” Small business CEOs don’t have the luxury of carrying people, especially executive team members.

Give Toxic Employees the Boot

I’ve had CEOs I’ve worked with who have fired people as quickly as the first week on the job! A couple that come to mind are one who was telling everybody she met one-on-one in the onboarding process how screwed up everything is at the company and how it should be done. GONE! Another new hire who was a sales person told the CEO they had met with a prospect the first week. Well…that prospect was a friend of the CEO and had NOT met with the person. A not-so-little lie the first week on the sales person’s employment violated the core value of trust. GONE!

These mistakes do happen, even when you follow a good interview process, but you can minimize the bad hires by asking questions about core values, making sure the candidate knows exactly what you need them to do, and digging deep in your questions to make sure they’ve done these things in the past or at the very least, are able to articulate how they would handle similar situations they will encounter at your company.

Hopefully, this will mitigate the chances of you having to ask them “Who Are You?”

[Author: “I suppose I could also have used The Who’s iconic song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for this post too, eh?]   🙂

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: After the 1976 tour, Townshend took most of the following year off to spend time with his family. He discovered that former Beatles and Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein had bought a stake in his publishing company. A settlement was reached, but Townshend was upset and disillusioned that Klein had attempted to take ownership of his songs. Townshend went to the Speakeasy where he met the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook, fans of the Who. After leaving, he passed out in a doorway, where a policeman said he would not be arrested if he could stand and walk. The events inspired the title track of the next album, Who Are You?  Sadly, drummer Keith Moon died a month after this album was released.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Who

WEBSITE: http://www.thewho.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdLIerfXuZ4

As much as we don’t like to admit it, setbacks are unavoidable in business. But what really makes the difference is not whether we encounter failures – because we all do – it’s how we respond to them.

The experience of a setback in business reminds me of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing.” Even when the odds are stacked against you, you have to persevere for your sake and the sake of your company. It’s a situation I’ve certainly experienced before.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The Setback

Twenty years ago I was with a telecom company that offered high-end data services. It doesn’t sound like much now, but back then we were developing 10-megabit and higher connections between cities. This was around the time when services of even 1.5-megabit was advanced!

One of our clients during this time was one of the major investment banking companies in the same league as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. They were using our 1.5-megabits service since we hadn’t yet fully developed our 10-megabit service. Unfortunately, our company wasn’t performing up to our service level agreement.

The client called us into their conference room to discuss our mistakes, and they video recorded us like we were providing congressional testimony. They sat up on a stage looking down at us and went through EVERY single error we’ve made over the past six months. It was brutal! In the end, they decided to end business with our company. We were devastated!

The Response

As I walked out the door with four other team members, our sales executive inquired about the idea of giving them 10-megabits service between all cities in the United States. It was almost ridiculous to even suggest at the time. The highest speed the client ever had nation-wide for this type of service was 1.5-megabits – the client hesitated just for a second and then replied, “No, I don’t think so. We’re done here.”

That night the client called and said, “Maybe we should talk about that 10-megabit service.” The president of our company flew out on the red-eye from the west coast, and we met with the client.

After hammering out logistics, we agreed to move forward with the groundbreaking, cross-country high-speed data service. Before leaving the client said, “Well, don’t screw up again, because once we put our employees on this high-speed service, there’s no turning back. You guys have GOT to make this happen.”


We put together a roll-out plan…executed as if our lives depended on it…we made it happen and we exceeded their expectations. The client was so impressed and said we really stepped up. The client was so happy with the effort, they gave our operations team Christmas presents that year!

The challenge actually helped us. Not only did we save the client, but we were also able to prove our vision wasn’t just vaporware!

While pitching to larger prospects, we would mention this high-profile client with 10-megabit service cross-country. Soon, more companies wanted our services. Our company continued to grow in value, and was eventually sold in the late 90s.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The selected lyrics ring especially true when starting a business. The excitement of innovation is what keeps you pushing forward through difficult times. The reason we were creating the 10-megabit service wasn’t just for the speed – it was to create something new that had never been done before! And as they say, “The Rest is History” as we have 100-megabit service into our HOMES now!

The Lesson

We could’ve easily admitted defeat when we encountered our setback. If we conceded defeat, we wouldn’t have been poised for a triumphant comeback. The success of the company was due to our resilience. We didn’t stop believing in our product and ourselves.

Do you believe in your product or service? Are you creative in handling tough customer situations? Are you able to get back up swinging when you and your company encounter a setback? If not, adjust. If yes…use the story both internally and externally to catapult your company to success!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don’t Stop Believing was on Journey’s biggest studio album “Escape”. Recording sessions began in April 1981, and lasted until the middle of June. Escape was released on July 31, 1981, and immediately, the album became a mainstream success. The album, which has thus far sold nine times platinum, went to number one on the album charts later that year.  And of course, we all remember it as the song played at the end of the final episode of The Sopranos.

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey (band)

WEBSITE: http://journeymusic.com/journey-on-tour/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY


What does it take to be a championship team? There’s not just one secret trait to success. The rock band Queen’s lyrics to We Are The Champions hit on a few:

I’ve paid my dues / time after time

I’ve done my sentence / But committed no crime

Training: If you put the effort into something, you’ll recognize the progress you’ve made over time.

Dedication: You can’t just show up the day of the big meeting without being prepared. You have to put the time and effort into your work.

And bad mistakes / I’ve made a few

I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face / But I’ve come through

Flexibility: Sure, we all make mistakes, but it’s important to adapt and pivot when necessary.

Perseverance: It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Everyone loves a good comeback story.

And we mean to go on and on and on / We are the champions, my friends

And we’ll keep on fighting / Till the end

We are the champions / No time for losers / ‘Cause we are the champions of the world.

Additional characteristics such as having a shared fate, possessing talent, leveraging the strengths of each teammate, and having your teammate’s back are all traits of championship teams. Your team should strive to encompass most if not all of those elements.

Whenever I’m asked what was the best team I’ve ever been on, I think of two top-notch teams: one work-related, one play – and both shared the traits I mentioned above.

Fight ‘Til The End

Quite a few years ago while still in the Air Force and stationed in northern Michigan, I was on a slow pitch softball team. Because we were one of the smaller squadrons – and our mission kept some of us at work and off the diamond – we sometimes had a hard time fielding a full team. Consequently, we recruited anyone to play on the team, even if they hadn’t ever picked up a bat.

Fortunately, our lack of experience didn’t stop us from persevering. We had four or five hitters who could smash a home run at any time, and most of us could play multiple positions well. More importantly, no matter who showed up for the game, we always had each other’s back.

I’d like to say we won the championship that year, but we actually lost the three-game series to a much more talented – and fully staffed – team. In two of the games we were a man short, but we gave it our all, and lost the last game by a couple of runs. I have fond memories of my underdog team and the obstacles we overcame.

No Time For Losers

I was with the White House Communications Agency back in the mid-80s while still in the Air Force. As part of the presidential advance team, we traveled in ahead of POTUS to organize the communications infrastructure at his destination. That way when he and his staff arrived anywhere in the world, they could communicate as if they were sitting at their desks in Washington, D.C.

This is during the time when computers, radio, and satellite communications gear was bulky and heavy. We would load up the trucks, drive to Andrews Air Force Base, unload the truck, load the plane, fly to our destination, unload the plane, load the trucks, drive to the hotel or facility where we would set up shop, and unload the trucks. Within a couple of days, we would have installed a world-class operational office and communications infrastructure.

In addition to the grunt work, we were all communications experts. While we each had our own positions, it was necessary to know a little about everyone else’s role, just in case something happened to any of us. That meant the infrastructure’s backups had to have backups, too. We all knew how important each of our jobs were, and we all knew we had to complete the mission each and every time we were deployed. We were a well-oiled machine with a shared fate.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the advance teams for the first two Reagan-Gorbachev Summits held in Geneva, Switzerland and later in Reykjavik, Iceland. We had three weeks to set up in Geneva, but you may remember the Reykjavik summit was on again and off again as the world leaders were jockeying for position. When the Reykjavik trip was finally “on,” we had to do in one week what it took to do in three weeks in Geneva. This was truly one of those “failure is not an option” scenarios.

It was an INSANE schedule on a world stage and yet we were able to succeed because we had each other’s backs, and we were all dedicated to completing the mission. What’s more, we all had respect for each other, we held each other accountable, and we all pushed each other if someone wasn’t pulling their weight. Both summits were incredible experiences, and those were some of the talented men and women I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Creating Your Own Championship Team

Is your current company the best team you’ve ever been on? If the answer is no, then why not? What can you do to change it?

Gather your team and ask them to think about their best team ever, then capture all of the traits of that team. Now pick the Top 10 Traits, and ask yourself and your team how you measure up against each of them. Those traits you exemplify, keep it up. For those you fall short on, prioritize them and start working on them as a team.

In your weekly and monthly team meetings, discuss the progress you are making on those traits. I can assure you, if you work together on those Top 10 Traits each day at work, your current company will become your best team ever. Then you can proudly sing along with Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” because you’ll know it’s true.

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Written by Freddie Mercury, this song was built on audience response, with Brian May stating; “We wanted to get the crowds waving and singing. It’s very unifying and positive”. In 2011, a team of scientific researchers concluded that the song was the catchiest song in the history of pop music, despite it not hitting #1 in the charts in any major market..

BAND ON WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_(band)

WEBSITE: http://queenonline.com/

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY