Sim­ply put, an engine is a machine for con­vert­ing ener­gy (fuel) into motion. And an engi­neer is a per­son who designs, oper­ates and over­sees an engine.

Most busi­ness own­ers start out expect to be all three: fuel, engine & engi­neer for their start­up. We boot­strap, use sweat equi­ty, and “build the plane as we fly it” all in the hopes that lit­tle by lit­tle we find oth­er sources of fuel to cre­ate motion with­in our busi­ness and build a stur­dy engine to gen­er­ate the prof­it & lifestyle we envi­sion. We start gen­er­at­ing cash, hir­ing a team, sourc­ing ven­dors, cre­at­ing struc­ture, invest­ing in cap­i­tal, etc.

The ulti­mate goal of all this hard work is to become the engi­neer or the per­son who designs, oper­ates & over­sees; but all too often busi­ness own­ers get stuck. We get stuck in a vari­ety of ways.

Worst case, a busi­ness own­er nev­er grad­u­ates from being the fuel. Mean­ing they are con­sumed on a reg­u­lar basis by their busi­ness. We’ve all met this per­son. They are tired, resent­ful, and often times can’t remem­ber why they went into busi­ness in the first place. Their busi­ness may or may not look like a suc­cess on the out­side, but when you pull back the cur­tain this own­er is most like­ly experiencing:

  • Burnout
  • Per­son­al rela­tion­ship deterioration
  • Health prob­lems
  • Anx­i­ety and depression
  • Feel­ings of hopelessness
  • Resent­ment
  • Slip­ping fol­low through on com­mit­ments to clients & friends

Many busi­ness own­ers we meet with­in our busi­ness are at the next lev­el. They are no longer the fuel, but they are very much the engine. Mean­ing they haven’t cre­at­ed & devel­oped the struc­ture, process­es and peo­ple to build a sol­id engine of a busi­ness. This is often referred to as Founder’s Syn­drome. In my expe­ri­ence, com­pa­nies between $1M — $5M in rev­enue that haven’t been able to grow fur­ther are almost always suf­fer­ing from Founder’s Syn­drome.   These busi­ness­es almost always look like a suc­cess from the out­side. How­ev­er, when you pull back the cur­tain these are the types of symp­toms we see:

  • Own­er burnout
  • High employ­ee turnover
  • Dwin­dling profit
  • Stag­nant sales
  • Client attri­tion increasing
  • Grapevine gos­sip is rampant
  • Leader/employee rela­tion­ship deterioration
  • Com­mand & con­trol lead­er­ship style

Most busi­ness own­ers should ulti­mate­ly move to the engi­neer role with­in their busi­ness. If an own­er can get here, the sky is the lim­it. This is where own­er lifestyle, prof­its, com­pa­ny cul­ture, busi­ness pur­pose and client sat­is­fac­tion soar. This own­er & busi­ness often experience:

  • Increased sense of purpose
  • High­ly effec­tive teams
  • Grow­ing rev­enue & profit
  • Per­for­mance trans­paren­cy & finan­cial reward
  • Work/life bal­ance for own­er AND employees
  • Clients/customers become rav­ing fans
  • Clear struc­tures and frame­works that cre­ate autonomy
  • Col­lab­o­ra­tive and inno­v­a­tive culture
  • Low employ­ee turnover
  • Healthy cash flow


Now that I’ve beat­en you up a bit, let’s talk about how to move from being con­sumed by your busi­ness to being the over­seer of your busi­ness. As a busi­ness own­er it is nat­ur­al to feel respon­si­ble for every deci­sion and every out­come. Yet, the only way for you and your busi­ness to grow is for you to work “on” and not “in” your busi­ness every day. In her new book, The Pros­per­i­ty Play­book, our CEO Mack­ey McNeill, details her sys­tem for mov­ing from “in” to “on”. We call it GIRST (sounds sexy, right?). GIRST is a tool to help a busi­ness own­er focus their activ­i­ties, roles & duties. GIRST stands for:

  • TEST

Just click here to down­load an excerpt from The Pros­per­i­ty Play­book on how to use the GIRST sys­tem for yourself.

Once you are clear on who you want to be for your busi­ness every­thing else about your busi­ness becomes a lit­tle clear­er. As a busi­ness own­er you have giv­en more of your­self than you ever imag­ined to your busi­ness to get it where it is today. Don’t you think it is time start get­ting more in return?