You can never truly be a business owner as an employee

Executives all over the world are being lied to and it’s creating two hidden problems. The problem wasn’t obvious until I saw a pattern.

At a certain point in your career, there is this feeling where you think to yourself “I want to be a business owner.”

In 2015 a study conducted by OECD titled “Entrepreneurship at a Glance” found that well over 50% of the people surveyed wanted to be their own boss and the number continues to rise.

There are two paths that stem from this feeling and one is problematic: running a business unit in a company you don’t own. I’ve seen time and time again, people with good intentions taking leadership roles and running areas of a business to try and feel like a business owner. They’re chasing that feeling and unknowingly not getting it. They can’t understand why.

If their goal is to be a business owner, it always ends in tears when working in somebody else’s company.

“Run it like it’s your own business”

This phrase is a lie. You are either the owner of a business, or you’re not. When you own a business, you can make the decisions and if it fails, the bankruptcy mark goes against your name as the owner.

When you work for a company and the dream peddling recruiter tells you that you can run the department like it’s your business, what they’re doing is giving you false hope. If you don’t own the business and are trying to run it as you do, three tsunami’s can wipe away your dream:

1. Your enabler leaves

We’ve all had someone like this in our careers. They may not necessarily be your people leader but they enable you at work. They support your decisions, influence key decision-makers and let you implement your ideas.

These enablers give you false hope that the business is yours and your name is on the company registration certificate. Then, like what happened to me, your enabler leaves. In January 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, the median employee tenure was 4.3 years for men and 4.0 years for women. This means your enabler is going to leave at some point and probably sooner than you might think.

Once your enabler leaves, running a department likes it’s your own business comes under fire. Your leverage is reduced and someone else can come in who has a new enabler and overturns your decisions.

2. Recessions

Given we’re at the end of an eleven-year bull run in the stock market, this one is a near-term possibility.

When a recession happens, businesses can panic. During those panic moments, like in the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, every part of a business can be questioned.

Your business unit that performed well could be seen as part of the problem or no longer innovative. The control you have to run the business can be taken away as the business attempts to find profits in challenging market conditions.

3. A new boss

Your boss lets you run the business. And if you’re the CEO, your boss (the board) enables you to keep running the company.

New bosses can enter your workplace at any time and rob you of your ability to live the false hope of being a business owner.

4. Restructure

A simple restructure could take away your leadership title and leave you going back to the front line on half the salary and being told: “You’re grateful to still have a job, pal.”

Restructures can be brutal, especially if your goal is to be a business owner in a company you don’t own.

5. Acquisition/merger

This one shines the lights on the whole ownership saga more than the rest. When the real ownership structure of a company changes, the new owners may not need or want you anymore.

Under the old owners, you could have been a leader acting as a business owner; under the new owners, you could be outdated or not friendly with the new management who have friends they’d like to place in your position.

Accidentally becoming a toxic boss

When one of the five events above happens to you in your quest to know what it’s like to be a business owner, you accidentally become a toxic boss. Why?

You’re trying to hold on to your business owner position and play a game that is set up for you to lose.

A nice person accidentally turns into a toxic boss and does the following in an attempt to be a business owner:

  • Talking behind people’s backs
  • Getting people fired
  • Taking advantage of customers to hit KPIs
  • Making bad decisions that enable a fake business owner mindset
  • Being selfish

Trying to be a business owner in a company you don’t own is one of the biggest causes of toxic workplaces.

It has taken me years to see what this behavior can do. A lot of what turns a company culture toxic is tied to this false idea we can be business owners. If the business leaders stopped spreading this lie, perhaps we’d have less toxic workplaces.

Solution #1: Start a side-hustle

It’s because of this business owner problem that I’m so passionate about people experimenting with what it’s like to own a real business and to dabble in what it means to have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Jumping straight into being a business owner often produces radical results, both good and bad. The way to dip your toe into the water is to try a side-hustle. Create a small project on the side that you turn into a commercial business in your free time and see how you like it.

Are you good at it?

Do you enjoy it?

Can you manage another person?

Can you generate a sustainable profit?

I tried blogging as a side-hustle and it re-ignited the entrepreneur inside of me that had been dormant for a long time, since the days of being in business with my bro.

The answer for me ended up being a balance between working for a company I don’t own and having a business entity that was 100% owned by me. The answer may be different for you.

Solution #2: Start a business

The more drastic approach is to quit your job where you can never be a business owner and start your own business. Go all in and see what happens.

Even if your business fails, you can always get another job again.

When everything is on you and you’re spending your own money, you make different decisions. There is a different level of risk and there is so much on the line. Some people crumble in these circumstances and others thrive. The aim is to figure out which option works better for you and then alter your career accordingly. At least this time, you’ll be a real business owner not a pretend one.

If it doesn’t work, you can use the experience and learn many amazing lessons from the experiment that can drive you to be better if/when you go back to the corporate world.

Final Thought

There is no running a business when you’re working for a company you don’t own. Falling for the lie that a business you don’t own is yours — and that makes you a business owner — can lead you to create a toxic culture in your company, because you’re trying to be somebody you can’t be.

The solution to experiencing the magical feeling of being a business owner is to quit and start a business, or experiment part-time and start a side-hustle. Both approaches will help you know whether you want to be a business owner or not, and whether you have what it takes or can learn.

You can benefit from being a real business owner at least once in your life.

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