Four Kitchens

Why agency owners must learn to let go

4 Min. ReadWork life

Growth is built on change. At Four Kitchens, we’ve navigated a lot of big changes over the past few years, culminating in our recent rebranding. We needed our brand to more accurately reflect who we’ve become. I think we succeeded — not because of, but despite my involvement.

That’s because it’s counterproductive for business owners to be too involved in major projects. Our rebranding, for example, was far too important for me to lead. I had to take a step back.

If stepping back doesn’t come naturally for you, I get it. If you’ve been around since the start of your organization, you may feel that your role is Keeper of the Brand. To a point, you’re right. You do carry a responsibility to represent your organization. But let’s face it: You don’t have the time, energy, or emotional distance to tackle all the necessary work of a transformational project like a rebrand — or the other intricacies of your operation.

The value of letting go

Maybe your organization is small enough that you can remain involved in every decision without taking on too much or delaying the process. In fact, for very small agencies where everyone does a little bit of everything, that’s the job.

But as the years go on and your agency grows, you have to lea
o let go
. In fact, if you don’t actively identify areas where you have to pull away, you’ll end up holding your organization back. You have to trust yourself to delegate.

That means you need to trust the people you’ve hired. Whether you’re talking about how your agency prioritizes work or pursues a rebranding, you have to lea
o get out of the way. It’s a move that serves your mental health and preserves the integrity of what you and your team have built.

The EOS perspective on leadership

Letting go isn’t the same as checking out. For example, when we worked with Focus Lab on our rebranding, the process involved weekly deliverables and iterations that required our input. Their rigorous schedule demanded our constant attention, so checking out was impossible. But we did have to let go so they could take the lead.

My top two rules as a business owner are:

  1. Hire people who are better and smarter than you. (Let go of your ego.)
  2. Get out of their way. (Let go of control.)

As we’ve talked about before, Four Kitchens runs EOS: the Entrepreneurial Operating System. One of the core tenets of EOS is the concept of “letting go of the vine.”

Imagine you fall off a cliff. On the way down, you grab ahold of a vine. As you’re dangling in the air, you hear a voice: “Let go of the vine!” What do you do? If you continue hanging on, you’ll get more and more exhausted. But if you let go of the vine, you’re putting your trust in someone to catch you.

If we had hired an agency we didn’t trust, we would not have let go of the vine, and we would not have gotten the results we needed. If you’re having a hard time letting go of responsibilities in your organization, you have to take a look at who you’ve put in place to catch you. You probably think they won’t.

Growing as an owner frees your organization to mature

I’ve learned a lot about running a business over the past 17 years, and the importance of letting go is the most valuable lesson. Every year, I happily give up aspects of what I used to do — usually because we find people who should be doing them instead.

The first time I truly let go of the vine was maybe a decade ago. I was working late — we had an office back then — and one of our developers was doing the same across the hall. As the developer was wrapping up for the evening, they received two urgent emails from two separate clients. Both needed something done urgently, but the developer only had time to tackle one of them. The developer asked for my direction: Who should they help?

My answer, as an owner, would have been to find a way to help both clients. Work late — whatever it took. But I knew that was the wrong answer. It would’ve been another one of the thousand fire drills that led to burnout.

Fortunately, before I could reply, Mike Minecki (now our Chief Delivery Officer) walked into the office to pick up something he’d forgotten. I immediately told the developer to ask Mike. To this day, I have no idea what they decided. But the situation resolved itself, and Four Kitchens clearly survived.

From that moment, I knew I needed someone smart and pragmatic between me and any decisions driven by the anxiety of business ownership. Maybe you feel that process still works for you and your organization, and that’s great. I can’t imagine still grinding away at the same problems we faced 10 years ago. And I’m really excited to find out what else we accomplish in the years ahead.