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Relinquishing the Reins

When I went into business for myself at the age of 22, I made myself the decider. I did the hiring and the firing. I set the hours. I made the decisions as to what properties my companies would buy, how they would operate, when they were disposed of and what the asking price would be. Initially, I even determined the minute things like where we would purchase office supplies. I was the COO as well as President, CEO and the CFO. I was indeed ‘hands-on’ and very involved on the front lines and back lines equally. This came about naturally as I was raised to be responsible for what happens in my life. Needless to say, this took an enormous amount of energy, but it was, to me, just something that goes along with owning a business.

It took several years before I could empower a small number of top employees to purchase ‘small ticket’ items. But the decisions about investments and improvements as well as determining what assets we would sell would continue to be made by me.

I’m certain that a great amount of this ‘control’ thought process was because I wanted to do my very best to insure my businesses would be successful. Having grown up in a family that was economically challenged, I sure didn’t want to squander the opportunities that were before me.

Early in my career, my son, Ben, Jr. took a lot interest in my businesses. From age 5, he would go with me to help measure out buildings and parcels of land that I was preparing to sell. During summer breaks in school (both high school and college), he would do many various things for me including measuring property, erecting signs and building huge billboards from plans I provided, all on his on. And, he took a great deal of pride in his workmanship; he did it all very well.

During those years, as he was growing up, many friends who knew my son, would say things like, “I bet you are grooming him to take over your businesses one day.” I promptly replied, “Actually, I’m not. I want him to pursue and do what he wants to. That’s going to be his choice.” Even though I was hoping he would, I just wanted it to be HIS decision.

When he graduated from college, he asked if he could work for my company. Of course, I was extremely happy! I first had him work on only the small projects. As time went on, I knew that the only way for him to really grow was to learn by doing.

So, as I slowly relinquished control of projects and business decisions. I saw him take full responsibility on projects he oversaw. From drawing out the plans, to hiring necessary personnel and contractors and suppliers, he did, and still does today, an amazing job!

For the most part, he conducted business just like I had. But, sometimes he took a different tack which caused me a little angst. Standing back and watching was somewhat difficult at times, because, there again, I had been THE decision-maker for over 30 years!

A few years later, Ben Jr. called me about a new project. We had a large piece of land on the books that wasn’t doing anything, and new development was happening nearby. His idea was to build a subdivision on this property. And he didn’t exactly ask me if he could do it. This was more of a discussion peer to peer.

So he built the subdivision with absolutely no help from me. He negotiated everything with the city and county, did all the permitting, marketed the subdivision and finally sold the lots while I sat back and watched. And, he made the company a pretty penny.

A few months later, as I was reading my emails, I read one from him and I noticed that he had changed his title from ‘Vice-President’ to ‘President’ of Ben Campen Companies. Wow!! I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. Without even a hint of him taking on the title, he just did it! He assumed the lead in our company!

While it made me very proud of my son, it was a whole new experience for me. The realization that the reins REALLY had been assumed and now it was in ink and in full play. But, the funny thing was - I wasn’t concerned. His history of good business decisions, clear thinking and innovation had sold me. Besides, he had to be good, of course, because I trained him!

When have you relinquished the reins in your life? Whether it is letting your grown children host Thanksgiving dinner, allowing your employees to handle more of your company, or handing over your life’s work to your children - the idea of giving up something that has been a part of your life can give you pause. But trust me, you aren’t giving anything up. You are helping the next generation gain knowledge and experience under your watchful eye. And when they’ve got it, you are gaining independence along with the wonderful feeling that comes with empowering others, especially your children! Additionally, it frees you up to sleep late on Thanksgiving mornings, independence to work on different projects, and time to do good works in the community and the world.

This week, my challenge to you is to think about what reins you can relinquish in your life - and the good things you will do with all that newfound free time!

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