It was a mildly rainy morning and I was off to lead my spin class, something I have been doing as a volunteer at the YMCA, 3 times a week for the past 18 years! That particular Sunday was also my first Father’s Day. Little did I know that what would transpire that day at spinning class would transform the way I viewed and ran my business.
Prior to that Sunday in 2010 my software implementation company, Diabsolut Inc., had been growing steadily since its inception in 2003. The company had 30+ resources, a few million dollars in sales, and many interesting client names: Rogers Communications, Bell Canada and Direct Energy to name a few.
I was in full control of the ship, dictating pretty much every aspect of the business, making every big and small decision and feeling pretty invincible.
Funny how a few minutes changes things. That day, in the middle of the grueling class with 50 spinners, I fainted. This is not a great thing when you are on a bike on top of a podium! I landed on the ground and the journey began. People were moved out of the way, a pediatrician who was teaching in the studio next door calmed the situation, and then a Y lifeguard materialized with a defibrillator. She was told not to move me, but even at the young age of 18 she pushed back and did what she had been trained to do. She put the defibrillator on my chest and once the machine said to defibrillate she didn’t hesitate.
Like a blessing, in walked the head of Cardiology at our local University Hospital. He had been playing squash with his wife, which he has done at that Y every Sunday for the last decade. Between him and the young lifeguard I was well taken care of until they could get me to hospital.
An angioplasty was done the next day to clear a clog in an artery, and I was back on my feet a day or two later, back in my spin class within the week and resumed teaching within the month.
Changing the way I worked
Fast-forward a couple of years later, Diabsolut explodes both in headcount and sales with an enviable healthy fiscal position. What happened? Prior to the heart attack, I can honestly say I ran my business by trying hard but the business was floating along. I never really imagined such substantial growth over such a short period of time.
I believe this growth happened because post heart attack I began to stress less on the little stuff, and focus on the things I should be dealing with as CEO. I basically learnt how to become the Chief Strategy officer/Chief People Architect, which is really what the company paid me to do from day one, yet I was too busy in the weeds to ever get that high level perspective.
Having faced this difficult health challenge I realized my first priority had to be my family, while a side effect of having a huge “volts” surge being sent through my body made it hard for me to focus for long periods of time.
I needed to clear my mind of all the day-to-day hassles and give up more of the actual work to my team. Spending more time with my wife and son became priority number 1. I stopped picking up every piece of work I thought I was better at and empowered others to get it done. I stopped being a micromanager. If my leaders did not achieve the simple metrics we had set aside for them, we made changes. Most importantly I went from working 90% of my time in my business, to 90% of my time working on my business.
Trusting and empowering people has become my fulltime job. Together we build sustainable and achievable strategies and goals. Talent acquisition is a formidable task and now our senior executive team plays a key role in both the addition of new resources and the mentoring of existing resources.
I retain and consult an organizational culture coach, because I believe that life is valuable and who you work for, and with, is as important as what you do. Diabsolut is building a dynamic but people and family centric culture. From the social activity club, to our employee profit sharing plans, to our health and wellness benefits; many little initiatives support the culture in acquiring and retaining great talent. And beyond initiatives that support employee acquisition and retention, we’re enhancing our culture of innovation and “intra-preneurship” to ensure our continued growth.
Working on your business vs. in your business
Living each new day with purpose, I focus on the affect I have within the organization. This time my impact is not as a micro manager, but one as a visionary and an effective leader. I speak to every single person in my organization once a quarter in a 1 to 1 session, gathering suggestions and advice and incorporating them into our future plans.
Most of us who run a small business spend so much time doing the little stuff like going to the bank, approving miniscule expenses, doing accounting or whatever we need to do to survive that we miss a huge opportunity to grow our businesses.
You don’t need to have a heart attack to change your state. You can start today to immediately develop the plan to change your focus away from “day to day” operational engagements to high-level strategic thinking. Simply change the amount of time you work “in” your business to the time spent working “on” your business.
Top tips on your business
- Make a list of every task you are doing daily right now. From that list put a value to each of the tasks (High priority 10 to low priority 1) and put a name next to them of someone in your organization who could fulfill the task. If no name comes up, add a note for a potential new hire or a part time contractor.
- Keep high priority items 9 & 10 in your view and then entrust your people to get everything else done! This exercise alone will make you understand if you have the right people.
- Seek out quality advice and mentoring from professionals who can help you with your top two priorities. If they are that important to the success of your business do yourself the favor of getting the best help on them that you can. My strategic advisors are worth their weight in gold.
- Prepare a one page business plan on where you would like to be 12 months from now and have everyone in the organization sign off on their dedication and willingness to get there with you.
- Determine what’s in it for them if you get to the goal line and share that with them early and often.
- Be the Chief Talent Acquisition officer. Let the pros find your new resources, but be the deciding voice on those resources. Look for the X factor, as well as how you believe that person will fit into your culture. If you’re uncomfortable or undecided about a candidate, listen to the little voice in your head.
- Lastly, spend the appropriate time to get rid of the noise and barriers in your organization. This will permit each of your resources to become more strategic to the organization.
The most important thing I have learned from this experience is to let go and trust my team. I would strongly recommend that you do the same and if you’re reading this thinking that you don’t have the right people, that’s your starting point – go and get them!
After that, focus on making sure you are properly financed so you don’t have to worry about day-today existence. Then set out your strategic plan with a thought around your organization’s culture because it’s critical for continuing to attract and retain the people who will deliver your success or failure.
My heart attack was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Diabsolut, as the company got a much more strategic big vision thinker, and more involved and dedicated leadership from those whom surround me!
On a more spiritual note: my younger sister my biggest fan, passed away 7 month prior to this incident of her own heart related issues. On the morning I was delivering her eulogy I taught my spinning class and in attendance was a brand new spinner, she was so happy and joyous I had to ask her name. Her name was my sister’s name, Maryse! On the day of my heart attack, the first person to rush to me when I fell was Maryse, she held my hand through the initial part of the trauma. I can only believe that my sister was watching over me, and it just wasn’t my time.