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Posted: January 31, 2012

To succeed in business, take off that hat!

Hat rack management can hinder your growth

Steve Baker

I use the term "hat rack management" to describe what startup and small business managers go through.

As managers, you wear many hats: management, sales & marketing, accounting, production, IT, strategic planner, fireman, custodian, the list goes on and on. So all day long, you are mentally running back and forth to the hat rack to change hats to fit the immediate task at hand. Most days you are attempting to wear multiple hats at once. After all, everything has to be done, and you're the one who has to do it. You have the skills and drive that started the business, and you know it best.

But guess what? The truth is that you can't know everything or do everything well, and some of those hats just don't fit.

I was fortunate to figure this out early in my business life. I was starting my first business while still in college. As a business major I was taking as many courses as possible including an advanced accounting course. As a young business owner, I knew that I had to understand accounting but I also realized that I didn't like it. My strengths have always been in developing and executing business and marketing plans and the accounting hat is a uncomfortable fit on me.

After a few days in class, I went to the instructor to inform him that I was dropping his class to pick up an additional marketing course because I wanted to strengthen my expertise. I knew that accounting was one hat that would never fit my head. Acknowledging that I could not wear it well directed me to outsource this important function to those who have a passion to do it well. Not trying to squeeze my head into the wrong hat left my brain fresh to do what I do best. Conversely, if you're a top-notch CPA, chances are very good that marketing hat doesn't fit you well.

Spend your time and talent wisely. Every hour spent on things that are not your expertise is distracting you from what you do well and will adversely affect your overall performance. Trying to wear a hat that doesn't fit will give you a headache. It will wear you down, cause frustration and diminish your overall effectiveness. So play to your strengths. There may be an added cost to pass tasks to others but you will gain it back in increased productivity and efficiencies.

Another negative consequence in trying to wear too many hats and do everything yourself is that it can become a bad habit that turns you into a micro-manager (that's a nice term for control freak) who cannot or will not delegate. Micro-managers tend to run roughshod over others and inhibit growth in their employees.

Yes, in the very beginning, you must and will do it all. But for the sake of your company's success and your own peace of mind, truthfully analyze your strengths and weaknesses (see my article on SWOT) and decide where you need others' expertise. Then set and follow a new plan to transition the delegation of these tasks to others.

Hats off to your success!
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Steve Baker is a founder of successful businesses and a business advisor with a passion for every phase of business cycle from startup to exit. He's also a public speaker and author of "Pushing Water Uphill With a Rake," as well as an avid poor golfer. He welcomes your comments and e-mails at and invites you to visit his website


Steve Baker is a founder of successful businesses and a business advisor with a passion for every phase of business cycle from startup to exit He’s also a public speaker and author of "Pushing Water Uphill With a Rake," as well as an avid poor golfer. He welcomes your comments and e-mails at  and invites you to visit his website

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Readers Respond

Superb article! Business owners often work many different roles in extremely demanding hours to ensure success. The Hiring of Employees is a difficult skill, critical in ensuring future growth as the business expands and must be given large amounts of thought. By Guides 4 Life on 2012 08 23
Good stuff Steve. I could not agree more. I see that a lot with business owners and the sales hat. They know from time to time they should put it one but many have fear around wearing a "sales" hat. Thanks for your insight. Liz By liz wendling on 2012 02 01
This is a great reminder, Steve, to use hard earned skills for the highest and best use....or as I like to tell my clients, "do what you love." Getting side-tracked with tasks that either do not fit our personalities or our expertise can easily derail a perfectly good company....big or small. By Mary Villalba on 2012 01 31
Once again Steve, you're right on the mark. Trying to do everything yourself will frustrate you, make your day longer, and keep you up at night (or get you up in the middle of the night). By Dave Brinks on 2012 01 31
The same can be said for many non profits. I have been struggling with the hat juggle and it's true that I am less effective not being able to focus on what I do best. We are reorganizing to prevent this from continuing in the future. Great article. I'm going to share it with my team. By Janie on 2012 01 31
Great article! When I saw the headline, I thought you were going to refer to the pernicious habit that some of the younger folks have of wearing a baseball-style cap everywhere....including into restaurants, offices, and, probably, to bed. But, you're right, those of us who own a small business are constantly changing our roles hour by hour or minute by minute. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 01 31
Love your article. It’s so true. The entrepreneur with whom I just worked, was very good at knowing what he didn’t know and relying on other’s expertise to fill in. But he’s the ONLY entrepreneur with whom I’ve worked who had the ability to do that. It’s critical to the business’ success. And when you can’t afford to hire full-time, use a consultant. By Margaret on 2012 01 31
Bravo Steve! The nail has been hit on the head! Very good food for thought and for the immediate future, we will exhibit "hat hair" from the many we wear. To dream of the day when we can delegate to motivated professionals who will thrive in our weak areas keeps us going! By John on 2012 01 31

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