How can you reclaim your entrepreneurial freedom?

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In ‘The Wealth of Nations’, Adam Smith argues that the essence of industrialism was defined by the fact that the division of labour creates a significant increase in productivity. He argues that the specialisation and concentration of workers on single sub-tasks leads to far greater skill and productivity than can be achieved by the same number of workers each carrying out the original range of tasks.

The main reason people start businesses is for the freedom it supposedly affords. And yet, in my experience, the majority of owner-managers find themselves constrained by their companies. For example, the number of days’ holiday taken annually by SME owners is far below the legal minimum afforded to employees, largely due to the sheer number and range of functions they have to oversee to maintain their organisation’s productivity. Yet entrepreneurs have more power to decide what their job entails than anyone else in the entire economy.

This should leave them well positioned to focus their time on what I call their “unique ability”. Unique ability activities are those that we absolutely love doing, that give us more energy than they consume, and continue to produce greater levels of skill and better results in relation to the amount of time we invest.

I divide people’s natural ability on any given task into four categories: incompetence; competence; excellence; and unique ability. The first two are self-explanatory, but “excellence” encompasses activities for which you have a great level of skill, but no passion. Though superior results may be achieved in these areas, they leave you drained of energy and unenthused. Performing in areas of unique ability, on the other hand, generates excitement, energy, and the desire to do more. 

Many people have been taught that the secret to success is to work hard on your weaknesses. In my experience, that just means you get to the end of your life and career with a set of really strong weaknesses.

A simple exercise to try is to list, over a couple of weeks, all the activities your role as a business owner currently includes, and then categorise them according to your level of skill and enjoyment.

The best entrepreneurs have discovered that the real key to success is to focus as much of their time as possible on their Unique Ability, and delegate everything else. They spend the absolute minimum amount of time in areas where they are incompetent, competent, or even excellent. Instead, they delegate these jobs to other people.

In addition to greater professional performance and productivity, and the growth in revenue these bring about, owner-managers that work only in these areas will experience a greater sense of simplicity — an incredibly rare feeling for those running a business.

On Thursday, July 14, 2011, Strategic Coach client Andrew Burcher, founder of the Mabain Group, will be giving a complimentary presentation for Real Business readers, to share his insight and experience of how you too can break through the entrepreneurial glass ceiling and accelerate your business’ growth. 

Dan Sullivan is founder and president of Strategic Coach.

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