There’s one lesson that the business world has taught me repeatedly throughout my 28 short years; over, and over, and over again.
As with many things in life, I’ve tried to ignore it at times – often battling with the temptation to give up, skip ahead, or simply gloss over the boring and the seemingly inconsequential.
But I don’t believe in co-incidence, so I guess there must be a good reason why life keeps dangling it in my face.
Startup Lesson #1: DO before you DELEGATE
It was in early 2005 that ‘delegate’ became something more than just a 3 syllable word in my vocabulary.
I had just started work at a 10-person startup electricity retailer called Jackgreen; a company that is sadly (but not surprisingly) no longer in existence.
As a fairly bright, cocky 20-year-old musician, I thought I was pretty special. It didn’t matter that I had no experience in the corporate world. If there was something I didn’t know, I would just figure it out.
No worries mate.
But my prestigious job title suggested otherwise -“Contracts Administrator”.
Contracts Administrator? Yeah right. More like “Monkey on a typewriter”.
As was the case at most of my previous companies, I hated my job. I whinged constantly to my poor boss about it. I was bored as hell. My brain was gathering dust, just like the never-ending pile of contracts on my desk.
And worse still, I was barely even pocketing minimum wage. Life sucked.
And then it hit me… BANG! An airborne Looney Toons anvil to the head (that’ll teach me not to carry an umbrella).
The problem here wasn’t my job at all. It wasn’t my job, it wasn’t my boss, and it wasn’t my company – it was me. I had the whole world at my feet; the opportunity of a lifetime.
But my attitude was all fucked up. I was sitting back, expecting the waters to part. But what had I actually done to earn it?
And it was time to shift my thinking.
I was in a young company that was growing rapidly. There were holes all over the place – undefined processes, inefficient systems, zero documentation, and more work each day than we could hope to get through in a month.
Several months of being buried shoulder deep in the detail had actually taught me a lot more than I realised – I was starting to understand the company’s inner workings, hierarchical structure, and the energy industry as a whole.
Suddenly I began to see chances for improvement everywhere I looked. Instead of bitching about the boring work I was doing, I started taking new ideas to my boss and suggesting ways to streamline the processes I was doing.
Often the only thing holding you back in life is your own perspective.
Within a month of my newfound enlightenment I found myself ushered into the newly created role of Customer Service Team Leader, billed with the task of setting up and managing an in-house call centre – something I knew absolutely nothing about.
And boy did this get my hands dirty. I was out of my depth and loving every second of it.
Fast forward another 6 months and I was now responsible for 14 call centre staff as the company’s Customer Service Manager – a role in which the only things that make it to your desk are either screaming customer calls, or colossal screw-ups so messy that no-one else can solve them (or both).
If you think that sounds like a pretty shitty job, you’d be right.
But more importantly, it brought a thousand more challenges, chances to learn & grow, and figure out where things were going wrong.
Another 12 months and I was, out of the blue, offered a chunky pay rise to step into the role of Operations Manager – the very same role my first boss had held when I first washed up on the sparkling shores of Jackgreen.
The big difference was that Ops now comprised of 3 departments and over 30 staff members. And at 23, I was one of the youngest in the team.
I’m not going to lie – the thought of taking on this role from someone nearly twice my age terrified me more than a little bit.
But after giving the decision some thought, what I soon came to realise was that with nearly 2 years of hands on experience in many different roles and departments all over the company, I was actually armed to the teeth with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience.
And perhaps most importantly, my constant proactivity and hands-on approach had given me a fundamental understanding of every aspect of Jackgreen.
So with that, I strapped on my goggles and dived in.
Things might be very different right now if I hadn’t been able to look critically at myself; to see the problem, and discover the willingness to DO.
I can’t honestly say that I would have achieved the same sort of success, both working for others and in building my own businesses.
It’s very easy to look past yourself and blame your boss or your company for the frustrating, the mindless or the inefficient, but much harder to see the chinks in your own armour.
When you’re open to the experiences gained from DO-ing, you become better equipped to DELEGATE; to educate and to motivate, to find and mend the holes, to see the bigger opportunities, and to change the world.
To paraphrase Robert Greene in his latest masterpiece ‘Mastery’, each new phase in life is an apprenticeship in which to learn and acquire the skills you need to become a master (or in this case, a delegator).
How will you use your apprenticeship?