The Reluctant MD

All three of you thought it would be a terrific idea to start your own studio, or agency or analytics firm or app builder or…whatever. So you just did it, jacking in the jobs, each of you wrangling enough work out of a couple of clients to pay your way for a few months, knocking up a couple of IKEA trestle tables in a spare bedroom and, boom, here you are with this thing, this business, for goodness sake, with employees and offices and business rates and management accounts and insurances and so much stuff that is nothing to do with the thing it is you do, that you sell to clients and from which you make your living.

And somewhere along the way someone became responsible for all that stuff. That’d be you.

I’m not the first to recognise this syndrome. I’ve heard it referred to as the Accidental Leader. I call it The Reluctant MD. This is the person that failed to take a metaphorical step backwards in that board meeting in the brewpub way back when your little enterprise was clearly getting a little ahead of itself and the question got asked; ‘who’s the best person to lead this business, now that it clearly needs a leader?’.

It made sense, back then. You were the best organised, the most numerate, of the founders. You could make some sense of a spreadsheet, when the others just glazed over or developed a deep interest in their cup of cold coffee. At least you tentatively queried the constant demands for another five creatives or half-dozen developers, just because ‘everyone is really busy’. And, no, I don’t think we can justify the investment in a high-end Italian-made espresso machine in the kitchen, however much is contributes to employee (read: director) satisfaction.

And now? The job is about as appetising as that cold latte. The hypothetical seductions of leadership have resolved themselves into the petty daily realities of reviewing staff utilisation reports and renegotiating bank loans. Which was getting to be a grind, even before the current massive market opportunity/management crisis/client resignation/untrammelled growth spurt. The one that’s pushed you over the edge, close to actual doctor’s-certificate level exhaustion, stress-induced anxiety and emotional meltdown. You’ve run out of road.

It happens. Most Reluctant MDs remain just that. In practice, their running out of road, out of management bandwidth, coincides with a burning desire to get back to the thing they started out doing, the craft or professional practice that got them into this business in the first place. It would be a mistake to see this as simple escapism, just a desperate desire to smash the manacles of management.

It’s a clear sign that the next stage of the business is imminent. The Reluctant MD, bless ’em, is just not the one to take it there.

  1. How many business men and women become accidental designers? And how many designers become accidental business men and women? I would imagine the latter a lot more than the former. If the business side isn’t interesting to you then there start the problems.

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