Company Owners Don’t Know It All. Seek Out Renegades.

This weekend I was talking to my mother-in-law and looked up from where she was sitting to see our attic door dangling from its hinges ready to fall and clock her in the head (not a way to get bonus points with the in-laws). So I called three carpenters to quote on the fix in addition to some other odd jobs around the house. You would think three carpenters, all with good credentials might think the same way, but surprisingly that was not the case…

The first two carpenters were exactly what I’d expected: professional, deferential, ready to quote what was asked for. I took them through the house pointing out broken items while giving my take of what would solve the problems: new fancy door hinge, some hardwood to replace a bathroom cabinet, and on and on. The carpenters pulled out their tape measures, nodded and agreed with my assumptions, claiming they were the guys for the job.

But then the third carpenter showed up. His name was Koo. Koo wasn’t quite as polished. He had a laid back demeanor and left the formality at the door. As I went through my pitch, presenting the obvious solution, I was surprised to hear Koo tell me my idea was impossible. A smoke detector and all the wiring that came with it blocked the new door hinge I imagined and the new hardwood for our cabinet would not match the depth of the surrounding tile. Even more, he had an idea that would cost a lot less than the hinge I’d thought up.

How did Koo spot this when the first two carpenters who took the exact same measurements and notes told me a quote would be coming? Maybe they didn’t spot the problem, didn’t care, or just figured they’d casually bring it up later when they upcharged me.

This got me thinking about how we company owners determine what type of help we do or don’t need. Owners call for consultants or interim executives all the time saying they could use help with everything from sales to finance to operations. They have an exact solution in mind and are ready to give marching orders.

But what if the fix we want is not the fix we need? Koo’s the model for leadership help. With plenty of battle scars he is able to cut through the crap to tell us what is best, not necessarily what was asked for.

I’m waiting for all three quotes, but Koo’s will be the lowest. Not because he’s cutting corners but because he knows better than I do and is approaching the work as he would wish done on his own house.


About the Author

Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan is CEO of the Association of Interim Executives. He has been launching and growing companies and helping other entrepreneurs do the same for 20 years. His first company, Online Access, put him on Inc. magazine’s Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies. Online Access, the first Internet-coverage magazine in the world, ran for 10 years and after its sale Jordan launched RedFlash, an interim management team that specializes in corporate development work.