On Being a Boss

Steve and I made a list of every person who lived on the island. We then crossed off everyone we considered a friend (we were starting to learn that a sure way to destroy a friendship, was to hire the friend). Then we crossed off anyone we considered an enemy. The sad truth is, no matter how much we want to be liked by everyone, small communities tend to be polarizing, and Steve and I had stacked up a small pile of detractors. Next, we eliminated those we suspected were sociopaths. Another of our learned rules of thumb: don't do business with crazy people. If you haven't already guessed, the resulting list was pretty small. We chose a name off this list, the person we felt would be the best fit, called her up, and asked her if she wanted a job. The next day, to our delight and surprise, she said yes, and our small company won its first full-time employee. And that night, I didn't sleep a wink.

Obviously, since our move off the island and into the big, wide world of larger labor pools, our hiring practices have changed. But what hasn't changed is the amount of sleep I lose over our employees. I'm sure I'm not alone among business owners whose biggest source of stress is making payroll.  Or keeping talent. Or trying to maintain a balance between caring very much about my employees, and not caring so much that it keeps me up at night. Ha. Good one.

I never set out to be a boss. But life happens. I started a business. The business got busy. I hired someone. And all of the sudden, it becomes the biggest part of what I do. Not making chocolate. Not writing recipes. Not fixing broken equipment. But rather, managing schedules. Volleying sick calls. Listening to complaints. Cracking the whip. Negotiating disputes. Making people cry.  Answering questions. Hundreds and hundreds of questions. Every. Single. Day. Listening like a friend. Reminding myself that I'm not a friend, but a boss. But not being able to help caring like a friend, anyway.

Being a boss doesn't come naturally to me. But luckily, I have easy access to a group of unwitting teachers: my employees. Every hard lesson I've had about being an employer has come from them. But then, so has every reward.

As a boss, I've had to learn to step back, and let my employees take the stage. I've had to learn to listen, and accept that I am no longer the nucleus of our small company; but rather, an equal part of the team responsible for our accomplishments. I'm learning that I'm the coach, and no longer the star. And when I watch an employee excel beyond their own imaginations at a skill they were sure they would never master; or when I watch one of them ask for, and then take on a new responsibility with enthusiasm and creativity, I think--regardless of my inexperience, or lack of know-how--I just might be learning something, after all.

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