The Adaptive Agency Blog

The Kidney Stone Test

by | Mar 27, 2024 | Strategy

Imagine if the time you could spend on your business were cut drastically.

What would happen?

Would it grind to a halt, hum along just fine, or continue to grow without you?

Would your employees be lost, or would they use your absence to be creative and innovate?

Would problems get solved? Would customers be less happy?

This is an important question, because it speaks to the kind of work that gets one when you ARE around.

My Kidney Stone

A couple of weeks ago I had a kidney stone. If you’ve never had one, you’re blessed. For me, it looked like 2-4 hours of unrelenting pain several times a day for 6 days. Almost no sleep. Lost 8 pounds.

I couldn’t work at all.

That could be scary, because we’re in the middle of a number of key initiatives, and it’s a peak season for us. It’s a terrible time for things to fall apart.

But nothing bad happened.

They didn’t seem to need me at all. In fact, the only thing that suffered was this newsletter, which I have been writing weekly for almost two years.

Everything else was fine without me. Heck, they probably enjoyed not having me meddle in their stuff.

So does that make me less necessary? Am I redundant because they know what to do when I’m not around? Of course not. It means that I’ve done a good job of promoting and developing leaders and building a great culture. And I get to work on more strategic aspects of growth and profitability.

The Kidney Stone Test

Leaders need to lead.

But I’ve seen many people in management roles, including small business owners, who get their sense of self-worth by how skilled and busy they are. They keep doing jobs that they should have handed off a long time ago. By holding onto tactical tasks they not only hold themselves back, they also prevent their people from developing.

They slow down business growth and create risk.

Sometimes it’s because of their ego. Or they’re afraid of letting go of busy work because strategy and leadership aren’t their strengths. Perhaps it’s because they see people as a labor cost to be managed, not as a talent asset to be leveraged. In any case, it’s not good for business.

So here’s a self-evaluation tool. I’m calling it “The Kidney Stone Test.”

Try answering some of these questions for yourself:

  1. Do I take pride in being the top salesperson in the office?
  2. Can I handle customer service issues better than anyone else on the team?
  3. How long can I leave town (with no cell coverage) without worrying that my team will start to falter?
  4. Do my people keep asking me the same questions? Do I keep answering the same way?
  5. How many customer relationships depend on me exclusively?
  6. What level of decision-making can my team handle without me?


An Experiment

One thing you could do is simply put it to the test.

Commit to leaving the office for a week. Don’t take phone calls or check emails. See what happens. Then do the same analysis:

  1. What went well?
  2. What broke?
  3. How nervous were you?
  4. What was your team not able to handle without you present?
  5. What was the cause of the shortcomings (culture, strategy, poor delegation, weak expectation setting, circumstantial, weak talent)?

That last question can be rough because if you’re lucky, your behavior was the cause. I say lucky because when you own a problem, it moves into your domain of control.

Ultimately, the less you’re needed operationally, the more time you can spend upgrading yourself and your strategy, which is what your business needs if it’s going to grow and be profitable.