Letting Go to Get Ahead
As any entrepreneur can attest, you have to count on yourself when you first get started. It’s just you and your big idea, and it’s up to you to turn that idea into a reality. That’s what I did in 2006, when I founded Healthcare Data Solutions (HDS) with US$50,000 of my own money. I had self-reliance down to a science. It wasn’t until I had to rely on a team of experts to achieve our company goals that I discovered the one thing standing in the way of our continued success— me.
The financial risk of founding HDS was tremendous, but there was another situation I hadn’t fully appreciated, one that would require even more courage: learning to let go. Any self-reliant person knows that “letting go” sounds easy in theory. It’s the doing part that’s tough. I’m an “ideas” guy by nature. Ideas come to me fast and furiously … so much so that they’ve earned the nickname of “squirrels” from my management team. Chasing squirrels is fine when you’re a one-man show, but when you’re working with a core team, you realize that not all are worth chasing.
Here’s a big lesson learned: When you’re building a business, it doesn’t do you any good to be the smartest person in the room. You can’t grow, you can’t improve and you can’t learn. You have to lean on others and—as hard as it sounds—let go so your team can do their job. Forget about your squirrels. The management team you built from scratch can vet the idea, figure out how it fits into the company’s objectives, and in the case of HDS, how it impacts data, our products and services, and our sales and marketing teams.
As an ideas guy, it’s difficult to be told to wait … and even tougher to be told that your great idea is not so great after all. But when you let go, you’re giving others a chance to step up and take ownership. Along the way, they can provide new perspective and help you realize your dreams, while you’re working on the next big step in your business. Since I decided to let go, HDS has innovated in more ways than I could have ever imagined. In fact, we’ve expanded our business into the pharmacy market, and the first thing I did was admit to my team that I wasn’t an expert in the field— so I hired somebody who was. If I had tried to do it myself, we wouldn’t be validating one million pre- scribers a day for pharmacies nationwide right now.
When you learn to let go, you welcome new opportunities to improve your business and yourself. During a team meeting recently, I opened myself up to a 360° review, encouraging my team to tell me what my strengths and weaknesses are. Basically, I turned myself into a human dartboard. It was a vulnerable experience, and there were times when I felt defensive. However, letting my team pinpoint where I excel and lack was the ultimate exercise in letting go, because I discovered exactly what I was doing that was impeding progress. For example, when growth is skyrocketing, I have my nose in every project, thinking that I’m helping when I’m actually hurting in some cases. Allowing my team to tell me when and how my involvement is helpful, and when it’s stifling innovation, sounds an alarm in my head to leave and let them get to work.
Ultimately, letting go in my business and allowing myself to be open to criticism has taught me what Henry Ford meant when he said: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” By letting go, I’ve learned how to get ahead. And that’s exactly where I want to be when it comes to my business and life.