If Your Business Can’t Run Without You, It Won’t Grow Beyond You

Jul 23, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

A long time boss and mentor of mine used to always tell me “The measure of how good a leader you are is how well your department, business, division runs once you are gone.”  He knew me well.  This was a battle cry.  I was always looking to move up or over in the company and I wasn’t going to leave a string of embarrassing rag tag departments behind me.  In the heat of things I always saw this manipulation as a personal challenge.

And although part of consistently throwing this statement my way, was because he knew how to push my buttons, in actuality it was true.  By creating teams and businesses that could run without me, it freed me up to take advantage of other opportunities.

But, most importantly, I believe it was the single most effective strategy for successful business growth and for enhancing my leadership skills.

In order for my projects and teams to succeed, and run without me I had to:

hire talented, technically competent people

create a diverse team that complimented each other to ensure no major holes

delegate like crazy so that everything could be done without me if necessary

develop an open, learning, and innovative environment where people were not afraid to let you know if they had an issues or messed up

And more importantly…

  • create systems of checks and balances to make sure discrepancies were found without one boss micromanaging
  • make sure that we had policies and procedures whereby the team could make most decisions independently because they knew how things were supposed to work

These leadership activities strengthened the team and made them more independent.

As a small business owner creating a business that will beat the odds and survive and grow beyond it’s first 5 years,  you must create a business that can run without you.

How would your business do if you stepped away for one day? Could you step away for a week?  Can it run without you?  Why not?

Make a list of the things that would fall apart first.  What can you do over the next 6 months to turn this around and empower these parts of your business to be autonomous?

Need help?  Write your questions in the comment field below.

Reader Interactions


  1. Bradley J Moore says

    This is such foundational, life-altering, powerful advice. I worked for years as a consultant to high-growth entrepreneurs, and this was always a shocking and counter-intuitive moment when they finally came to grips with this. We each can be the biggest constraint on our own enterprise. I hope this post gets passed around- it will do so much good!

  2. Brad Harmon says

    I worked for an owner didn’t understand that his businesses repeated a grow and contract pattern consistently every 2 to 3 years. The business could never sustain its growth because he had to be a part of every decision down to the smallest detail.

    I think your boss is correct. Our job as leaders is to prepare our employees to be productive on their own. It’s hard letting go control, but if you don’t your business will reach a point where it can no longer expand.

    Excellent suggestion making a list of what would fall apart first.

    • S_Miley says

      Brad and Bradley, I feel blessed that I had this boss as a mentor because even though we were in a bigger company he taught me things that have really helped me in the entrepreneurial world. As a coach, I realize I may not see clients implement right away, but hopefully I am planting seeds. I know you are both planting seeds too! Blessings! Sue

  3. Megan E Burns says

    Sue, well said. I work with small business owners all the time that started the business because they loved the work, then as the business grows they can’t pull themselves out of the process. They get burnt-out in their own business because they don’t have the infrastructure, systems, and processes in place to help take them out of the picture AND still deliver the same or a higher level or service or quality product. If they did, they could hire strong competent people to run those areas while the owner works on the business versus in it. Many business owners would do well to heed your advice and begin focusing on the vision and the next opportunity for their company instead of just the next order.


    • S_Miley says

      Megan — It’s funny because it is almost like we don’t expect to be successful. We start selling or serving and as you imply, it takes off and we can’t stop long enough to put the foundation in place. I try to tell clients to expect success and plan for it! Thanks for sharing! Sue

  4. Jay Peroni says

    I struggle sometimes with delegating as I do a much, much better job than those I delegate to. It’s done exactly how I want it, however it sucks up time that could be spent more productively. This is a big dilemma for me. Thanks for sharing Sue!

  5. wira kusuma says

    Hello sue miley. I like your writing. And i want to ask something. Me and my dad runs a service business. Most of the time, both of us cant leave the business (like going to vacation) at the same time. If we hire and teach an outsider we thought that he/she will become our competitor once he/she has learn enough knowledge. Any advice from you? Thanks.

    • Sue Miley says

      Hi Wira, There is always a risk that an employee will compete. The best way to keep that from happening is to be a great employer and provide opportunities for growth right in your company. Then there is no reason for them to go out on their own. The other thing is to do superior work. If an employee becomes a competitor, you are still the toughest competition!

  6. Moses Kariuki says

    Thanks Sue, for this wonderful piece of advice, I am in Kenya and I am now at this stage of letting my business run with least of me.
    I am looking for articles like this one.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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