When the Company Needs a Sabbatical from the Founder

SPECIAL NOTE: For this post, I invited one of our popular podcast guests to share more about his journey From Founder To CEO. Jeff’s mission and vision will inspire you and his humor and wisdom will engage you. Please let me know what you think about it. – Todd


By: Jeff Ginn, Founder and CEO, Prolanthropy

My name is Jeff Ginn and I am the Founder & CEO of Prolanthropy.  I had the great honor and pleasure of being the 8th podcast guest for “From Founder To CEO.”

For most of my journey from Founder to CEO, I felt like Prolanthropy was attached to my hip like a two-day old infant child. In the beginning, it felt that way because Prolanthropy needed it that way. For the last four years, it has felt the same because I needed it that way. I have spent the last decade being all-in, 24/7/365 and that defined who I was.

In the beginning, Prolanthropy was a young company that needed its founder all-in 24/7/365. It constantly needed more horsepower and I was the engine. Like many of you, I was working 80+ hours a week and my family got the rest of my time. I didn’t need balance in my life. This company had one shot and I was going to make the absolute most of it. It was all work and all family, and that was enough. I loved what we were doing at Prolanthropy and I was very happy being all-in, all the time.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016. For almost a decade, I’ve been the all-in guy. I’ve been the work 24/7/365 guy. I’ve been the horsepower guy. The firm doesn’t need that guy now, it needs more of an aerodynamics guy. It needs an improved energy efficiency guy. The good news is that our firm now has those guys on our leadership team. The bad news is that I am in their way. More bad news, I am not disciplined enough to sit in my office and let the world happen outside my door.  I’m a fixer and fixers fix. Even more bad news, our team has not weened themselves off the Founder just yet. To quote Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”.

So, what can I do? The firm’s leadership needs me when they need me, but needs me to be at a distance so they can lead. I’ve heard of something like this before. It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Yes, it was Grand Jedi Master Yoda. They need me to become Yoda, or should I say, “Yoda they need me to become”.

Ok, I am up for the challenge. The success or failure of this is going to require two things: 1) my being at a distance and 2) my being disciplined in staying out. I stink at both.

I started with what I felt would be the easiest – distance.  In January of 2016, I informed our leadership team that I would be taking an office sabbatical for five weeks during the summer. I knew if I were in town, that I would find a reason to stop by the office so my family and I moved to Southwest Florida (SWFL) for the five weeks.

Then I had to conquer the harder of the two – my having the discipline to stay out of the day-to-day. In the beginning, the “noise” is what kept me awake at night, but then it became the “silence”. How could I trust the silence, especially if I was going to be out of the office for five weeks? I want to be able to simply focus on the results, but the results are a trailing indicator. I needed a leading indicator that ensured the results were good. Enter the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). We implemented our phase I of EOS and had a strategy that would ensure the expectations, predictability, transparency and honesty that would enable me to stay out and measure results.

So off to SWFL I went. It was easy; I worked every day on the business but rarely in it. I was over 1,000 miles away and that kept me from poking my nose back into the day-to-day. EOS kept them from pulling me back in. Ok, now the truth. It wasn’t easy. I felt lost, I got bored and some days it took everything I had not to pick up my hero device and call the team to see if I could save the day. I didn’t and it was painful. Here was the problem – as Popeye said, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am”.  There had to be a release for all-in guy, work 24/7/365 guy, the horsepower guy. I never truly found the release, so I became stir crazy.

The good news is that the firm survived my absence from the day-to-day. In fact, the firm thrived. Why? – because all-in guy, work 24/7/365 guy, the horsepower guy was being Yoda and he wasn’t disrupting the leadership of aerodynamics guy and energy efficiency guy.

The bad news, Yoda came back from SWFL at the beginning of August. What now? Surely, I had the discipline to stay out of the day-to-day from the distance of my office. The team had experienced the freedom of having Yoda staying out so there is no way they’d pull me back in. We had all experienced the results while I was in SWFL. This should be easy. Guess what – it wasn’t.

As Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

The truth is, the firm performs better when Yoda is out of the day-to-day. Remember, I am not disciplined enough to sit in my office and let the world happen outside my door. So, in December I announced that I would be permanently working remote on Monday and Friday from my home office. This meant that I would only be available in the office a maximum of 60% of the work week. It worked.

It not only worked, it worked so well that last month our leadership team respectfully requested that when I return from my second summer in SWFL that I limit my office availability to 40% of the work week by adding Tuesday to my working remote schedule. What? Why? It wasn’t because they don’t need or like Yoda, but because they needed Yoda there less. With our leading indicator measurement working, our new aerodynamics and energy efficiencies mean that two days of Yoda in the office gives the company all the horsepower it needs to achieve our goal speed.

More good news. I am writing this blog from my second summer in SWFL and I am not stir-crazy. Here is the bad news – the fish in SWFL are becoming very acquainted with all-in guy, work 24/7/365 guy, the horsepower guy.

Prolanthropy is the largest and most successful provider of philanthropy management in the professional sports industry. They proudly collaborate with some of the biggest names in professional sports to create opportunities for these professional athletes to share their success and gain positive exposure through their own charitable efforts. Their vision is to continue as the industry leader by keeping the philanthropic goals of their clients in the forefront of everything they do and operating with complete integrity by living up to their Guiding Principles.

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