Business Startups and the Three-Legged Stool


As I coach businesspeople, I find myself teaching the same concept over and over again. This concept comes from Michael Gerber, who wrote E-Myth, Revisited. He has a terrific perspective on how a business becomes stable.

Though Gerber didn’t actually use a three-legged stool as an example of his point, I have found it paints a good picture of what he says in his book.

A stool with three legs is superior to a stool with one, two, or even four legs. With one leg, you have no stability. With two legs, you have some stability, but you constantly have to work to find balance. With four legs, you run the risk of having one leg that’s shorter than the others, so your stool rocks back and forth (like those annoying tables at restaurants). Though the instability is minuscule with a four-legged stool, it still wears on you.

But a three-legged stool can naturally find balance in any environment, even if the ground is uneven. According to Gerber, the three legs have names, and a business owner needs all three in place for their business to succeed over the long haul.

Here are the three legs Gerber talks about:

  1. The entrepreneur
  2. The manager
  3. The technician

What the Entrepreneur Can Do

The entrepreneur is visionary, someone who can look into the void and visualize an idea—a dreamer with bursts of motivation.

Each of the three stool “legs” has a creative side, and with the entrepreneur, creativity is expressed through imagining, leading, inspiring—and I would also add conceiving. The entrepreneur is the one who conceives that something is possible.

However, their weakness is their short attention span. They flame hot and are excited, but they have trouble finishing the long marathon run because they get bored and want to move on to something else.

What the Manager Can Do

The manager is the long-distance runner. They tend to be the achiever, the one who works to complete a project. They are program or project oriented, and on the creative side, they think in terms of solutions. They can come up with ways to solve problems.

Where would we be without managers? They are the ones who finish the amazing idea the entrepreneur probably wouldn’t be able to complete on their own. When the entrepreneur comes in and presents the idea, the manager nods and says, “Yes, I can make that happen.”

What the Technician Can Do

The technician is the person you find most often, but it’s possible I feel that way because of my age. My generation grew up thinking about knowledge workers, who study a subject and know it so thoroughly that they make themselves valuable. People come to them for help because the technicians are considered experts, and they give their time in exchange for money.

The technician is the person the entrepreneur and manager rely on. A perfectionist, the technician is the one who really understands how to complete or design the item, accomplish the report, or finish the invention. On the creative side, the technician is a performer and achiever. They get the idea from the entrepreneur, observe or receive instruction from the manager, and finally craft the item.

Their advantage is they can make things expertly, but their disadvantage is they are perfectionists. They worry so much about the perfect service or design that sometimes they aren’t productive.

How This Works for Business Owners

According to Gerber, most new business owners major on one of these “legs” and maybe have a secondary strength, but rarely do they have all three.

An ironic conflict of personalities can occur when you have only two legs on your stool. For instance, an entrepreneur will resist and fight a manager because the manager wants to get stuff done, and the entrepreneur is already bored with talking about it.

Or maybe the perfectionist wants to refine and refine until they finally get this thing just right, and the manager is frustrated because they wanted to finish the project last week.

With the entrepreneur and the perfectionist, one is motivated for long-term service and one isn’t. So the perfectionist can end up working on something that the entrepreneur has already forgotten about. The “legs” of the stool are in conflict when there are only two of them.

Most people have one leg when they begin a business. They have one strength and don’t understand that a business best succeeds as a holistic idea with all three legs. Without realizing how much we need those other skillsets, we can launch into a business sometimes to our peril, which is why Gerber’s book is called E-Myth. The idea that we are all entrepreneurial isn’t actually true; instead, we have skills that need to be developed.

Building a business that endures means we need to be more than just perfectionists. We need to be more than just creative minds who are presenting awesome ideas and then losing interest in them. And we also need to be more than consummate managers who know how to get things done but don’t necessarily have the skillset to perfect the idea; neither do we have the interest in becoming the leader or vision caster. Like Gerber says, we need all three legs in order to make our businesses stable.

E-Myth, Revisited is a tremendous book, and I highly recommend it if you own a small business or are considering starting one.

God bless your Prosperous Soul.

Lauren Stinton