Entrepreneurs need to have a closet full of hats. When they start a business they better be prepared to wear a lot of them, mainly because there is nobody else to fill the roles they represent. Think of all of the positions that exist in a company within all of the functions of sales, marketing, administration, finance, operations, production, design, customer service and more. The entrepreneurial CEO gets to fill most or all of those roles in a start-up. Over time, she should be shedding many of those roles and putting those hats away. How deep into storage should they go? Is there a “best practice” for hat management?
There are functional hats like those described above. Some entrepreneurs are quick to jettison many of them, as the skills required to wear them as the company grows are outside of their comfort zone or expertise. But throwing them away is not the answer. An entrepreneur who develops into the owner of a mature business still has ultimate responsibility for those functions. So the hats are still needed. Trust those who do the work but keep the head (with the hat on it) in the game. An owner cannot use delegation as an excuse for totally abandoning responsibility for a functional area. If the business and/or the paychecks still bear the owner’s name, the functional areas deserve her interest.
There are are also “role hats”. These roles include visionary, leader, innovator,motivator, cheerleader and external communicator.They are hats that some founders where forever, either by choice or necessity. For some that is because those roles really represent the highest and best use of their time. They are great at these things. Steve Jobs comes to mind. So does Mark Cuban. Others may not recognize that they are not good at certain of these roles but nobody will tell them, or they just won’t listen. As businesses grow, they need each of these roles, but there is no necessity that they be filled by the founders(s). Big egos can get in the way of success. Every founder needs a good “mirror” to see how all of the hats really fit.
To get the best employees, employers need another set of hats. They include a Team Player hat,
The “boss hat” may be the hardest one to take off. This is the one that an owner has to wear when she holds employees accountable. Everyone in the company has to recognize that this hat exists, and while it may be hidden under others at certain times, and therefore not visible, it is always in place. Others may actually hold some responsibility for discipline and accountability, but everyone has to know that the owner is invested in the culture and its values and backs those who reinforce them.
The “boss hat” should represent not just Power, but Authority- moral authority, leadership authority and intellectual authority.
When we look at hats in the external world, we think of them as giving us protection- from the sun, from precipitation, from the wind. They can also hide our faces or our hair (or baldness). But in the business world, they do not hide or shelter us. They invest us with responsibility, authority and expertise. They should provide some clarity- for those wearing them and those dealing with those wearing them. Role clarity is critical. If a leader is wearing multiple hats and filling multiple roles, others need to understand which role is addressing them. So, while hats may provide us with cover outside, they do not do that inside a business.
(None of the above should be confused with Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats.” (See www.debonogroup.com) His methodology separates thinking into six distinct functional roles unrelated to job function, each signified by a different colored thinking hat. The White Hat is for the facts. The Yellow Hat is for optimism and the person “wearing” it explores positives. The Black Hat is for judgment and for spotting obstacles and danger. The Red Hat is about emotions. The Green Hat is the opportunity to explore creative solutions. And finally, the Blue Hat is the hall monitor, the one that keeps thinking within the process. This is a very different approach that may or may not work in a given culture.)
Know your hats. Know which is appropriate on what occasion, which is needed to fulfill a certain function and which needs to be hung up in the closet, to be pulled out only at certain intervals. And make sure your team knows that when they see a certain hat, they know what it means.