Sam Lennon | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sam Lennon

Background:  

Founded in 2012 by Sam Lennon, L2 Defense provides technical services for Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security programs. Those services include providing training, logistics planning, and engineering support for military and first responder personnel and programs. Edgewood, Maryland-based L2 Defense ranks among the fastest-growing private companies in the country, according to this year’s Inc. 5000 List from Inc. Magazine. Lennon serves on the board of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Baltimore and the Harford Family House, and frequently mentors students at the Reach Partnership School.

The Mistake:

The first thing that comes to mind isn’t a singular mistake, but kind of a faulty approach to doing and managing business.

I’ve always held myself fully responsible for getting the job done, and that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. But as I progressed through my career, I’ve gained a stubbornness in how things should be done. I’ve developed an unhealthy level of thinking that my way is the only way. I spent a lot of time dictating approaches and processes to other folks on the team instead of setting requirements for outcomes and results.

In our business we do a lot of proposal writing for defense contracts. On many occasions I’ve tried to lead proposal development wanting everything done in the exact process, in the exact manner, in the exact form that I’m thinking. As I’ve gone through that process, and seen things not being done my way early on, I’ve pulled the project back and done it myself. That’s led to many years of long 18-20 hour work days, and doing work that multiple people should be doing, because I wanted it my way and didn’t trust that other people would do it my way.

That creates another problem: You become the only “expert” at doing that work. It’s harder for other people to support you later, because now you’re the only one with that experience and that background.

On a past project I spent more time on the road than I should have when I had a lot of family commitments. I was on the road three weeks out of the month, and I had a pregnant wife. My personal health and other things were being affected by the amount of time I was committing to work, when I could have been committing a lot less time with a lot of help from the team.

There’s a very hard limit to how much you can achieve by yourself.

The Lesson:

Life has taught me that you have to delegate to get things done — there’s a very hard limit to how much you can achieve by yourself. The delegation helps you scale to bigger challenges, and helps you get other input that you might not have thought of. You get diversity of thought, and it really gives you more manpower to achieve goals.

Part of the reason I started my own company was because I was burning myself out. And I was burning myself out because I wasn’t delegating. At that point I said to myself, if I’m going to work this hard, I might as well do it for myself. At the start of a company, you’re the person who does everything. As we grew, and because it was my company, I realized how many different things I had to manage because I was doing everything myself. I very quickly realized that was not the recipe for growth.

I had to figure out why I was so stubborn in delegating. It wasn’t because they weren’t good, I just didn’t trust them to do what I wanted to do. I had to do a lot of self-reflection in allowing myself to trust other people I work with to get the job done as well, if not better, than myself.

After that realization I worked extremely hard to bring in leaders within the company, that have great character and that I can establish a personal connection with. I spend a lot of time up front working with them, understanding their capabilities and limitations. That helps me gain trust in that person and that whole team, which allows me to feel comfortable with delegation.

Once I develop that trust, I really focus my direction on results and outcomes, not approach and processes. Once that’s understood, I really let them fly and let them shoot for those results any way they see fit. I let them deal with challenges and consequences as they come up, and give them all the credit when they succeed.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

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