Leading with a founder’s focus

This week we’re pleased to bring you insights from a IBEC board member, Dave Kier who owns and operates DFS Feeds in northwest Iowa. He is a man of business excellence and experience, and also passion for bringing his faith to the workplace. As the second generation owner of this thriving business, Dave shares from firsthand experience of the importance of maintaining a founder’s mentality versus a manager’s mentality.

I am convinced that one main reason businesses eventually fail is that either the founder or the next generation of leaders moves from building a company to managing it. Not that a business doesn’t need to be managed but managing has more of an emphasis on carrying on or continuing – rather than building or leading. Building doesn’t have to mean becoming larger, but if one leads well, the operation usually grows. The owner most often starts a business to meet the customers’ needs and enjoys building relationships but often subsequent managers can come in with an emphasis on meeting the company’s needs.

As companies grow, the focus can become the balance sheet rather than the service provided. A business author once said that the worst action a founder can make is to start hiring professional managers who enter a successful company, note the net worth and think of how to leverage it so the company can grow the net worth. A company may grow, for a while, but then work becomes a burden instead of satisfying. The founder likely didn’t look too often, if ever, at the net worth but more at customer growth and delight.

Dave goes on to compare this business phenomenon with churches. This ‘managing’ versus ‘leading’ happens even in churches as the founder’s main emphasis may have been on teaching the Word and evangelism but the church eventually becomes internalized by getting busy with programs all the while shrinking from its main objective of serving the customer, that is, cultivation of new followers and maturation of those already established in their faith.

While ‘leading’ and ‘managing’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive, Dave has some real food for thought here – for IBEC readers, whether business owners, consultants, investors, clients, or casual visitors. Thanks Dave for stimulating us to think about important things.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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