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Making the leadership leap

  • Mike Rorie
- Posted: July 16, 2018
Owning, leading or managing a closely held small contracting business is often a very unstructured job to fulfill. Most people who are in this type of role operate on instinct, experience and common sense more so than a defined set of rules or direction. 

Having to figure out so many things about so many things can be daunting, especially while making financial ends meet. If only we were able to reach over to a leadership playbook for some help and immediate direction when we need it. 

Help is out there. But what you will likely learn the longer you’re in business is that you have to seek it out for yourself. Developing your leadership skills as well as learning how to develop your team’s skills can be greatly influenced by your willingness to reach out for advice through industry and business education and overall personal development. 

If you’re someone who doesn’t like sharing where you are in business or what you are struggling with, or if you have a tough time asking for help, this can present a real problem. If you avoid seeking additional resources and a network, you’re ultimately hindering your overall growth and success. 

I encourage you to start looking for someone or something that will benefit you. Such opportunity is accessible if you take the time to discover it. 

Find a mentor
A huge key to accelerating your success is working with a mentor. I’ve had several mentors over the years. The sincere advice and insight these individuals have shared with me is invaluable. Their prejudice toward helping me achieve success and the outreach of their connections is incredible. 

As a young businessperson, my first encounter with a mentor was meeting another provider in my market. I saw him out working, was impressed with his equipment and operations, and approached him to see if he would meet with me. 

He graciously agreed and for 10 years we met for breakfast at 6 a.m., six days a week for 30 minutes. He wasn’t a large operator, but he was very professional and he had much more operational experience than I did. My first 10 years in the industry was all about learning how to meet the demands of our customers in the landscaping and snow business, and this was something about which he could share his insights.

Learning wasn’t always as quickly achieved as I would’ve liked, but that was the nature of the beast, especially in the earlier years. The demands on me to run my company and to continue to meet the financial needs for my family and my employees’ families was always my No. 1 priority. 

But what became clearer over time was that without increasing my knowledge and business acumen, and without developing a strategy greater than hard work and perseverance, we saw only moderate success.

Get involved in an association 
Over my next 10 years in business (1989-1999), I was fortunate to be introduced to trade associations for landscaping and snow removal. Joining these associations and meeting industry people from around the country was eye opening. 

The time spent with other committed industry leaders, educators and consultants offered tremendous returns on my time, and it drastically shortened my learning curve in many areas. After experiencing this I made a lot more time in my schedule to participate and further educate myself as a businessperson and a leader. 

Additionally, I had my management team partake in industry education and connected them with other key leaders and managers so that we were all growing at a much faster rate than we were able to grow by ourselves. 

My learning curve from ’92 to ’98 was slow as I focused primarily on intake with steady but modest implementation. Because we had to seek knowledge, understand what we learned, teach it to our managers and then implement everything, things didn’t move very quickly. But once it came together, we collectively gained the momentum to accelerate and apply what we learned over several years. 

Seek out peer groups 
Another networking option to consider is participation on an advisory board. Organize three or four individuals who you respect, are ahead of you personally and professionally, and are willing to share their wisdom on the challenges, obstacles and opportunities you face. Meet with them three to four times a year.

Joining a peer group is a popular vehicle used to learn to work with others. The time and dollars associated with the investment are nominal compared to the benefits received.

Whatever route you choose to develop yourself from owner/operator to leader, keep in mind everything typically has a lifespan. Maybe you participate in a peer group for a long time but eventually you may need to move on and replace that outlet with new forms of insight. The key is to figure out the right mix of forums and groups to participate in to meet your current and future needs. 

Give, then get
Growth and profitability are major drivers and evidence that you have learned the key differentiators to running a successful business. If you’re able to grow your business year-over-year with a steady or improved bottom line, then you’re probably in the right place! 

If you’re struggling to grow and to do so profitably then I suggest you invest in yourself and your team and look to the many types of leadership and business training available for help.

My years with industry consultants, serving on industry boards and sharing through facilitating educational presentations have led me down a road that had I not committed to, I never would have traveled. 

As most of you who are reading this article would attest, the more you contribute, the more you typically get in return. So get out there and get involved. Seek to give, then get. 
Jump start solutions
  • Seek advice from peer groups or advisory boards willing to share their insight.
  • Get involved in industry associations and give back when you are able.
  • Mentors can help catapult your personal and professional success.
Mike Rorie has been a participant in the snow and ice industry for nearly four decades. He owns GroundSystems and is CEO of GIS Dynamics, parent company to Go iLawn and Go iPave. Contact him at
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