Mike Shaver | Crain's Orlando

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

Mike Shaver


Children's Home Society of Florida is the state’s largest provider of services to children and families, particularly those in crisis, and a leading advocate for the state’s child welfare system.

The Mistake:

My mistake was thinking the best way to come in and run such a big enterprise was command and control. I learned [the lesson] in a very indirect way: I’m this young, wide-eyed professional saying, "I’ve been given a lot of responsibility, I have a lot of people, and I’m running these contracts statewide. I have a lot of CEOs statewide who run these organizations that have these contracts. And my job is to tell everyone I’ve got a plan, I’m working the plan, and this is where we’re headed. Stick to the plan."

So then I’m thinking to myself, I’m ready to be a parent. When I adopted my son from the child welfare system, I thought that parenting would be exactly like running a large organization: If I just had the plan, I could manage my 9-year-old son the same way. And of course, I was a father for about one day when I realized I couldn’t do either job on my own.

What I did was I reached out to every close friend I had and said, "I need to hear from you that I never have to feel bad about picking up the phone and saying, 'I need your help.'”

I had underestimated what it means to parent as a single parent. I realized I have to build a team for this, the most important challenge of my life, which is parenting a 9-year-old boy. I started to ask, "What does my team look like in terms of raising my son?" And "What does my team look like in terms of managing my professional life?" Because I couldn’t keep working the way I was working if I was going to be a single father.

I was a father for about one day when I realized I couldn’t do either job on my own.

The Lesson:

And just as I began to realize that it’s not a bad thing to reach out, to say, "Hey – I don’t know all the answers," I also realized that in my work life I didn’t have to have every answer. I had smart people. In fact, one of the things I did really well without even knowing it was I went out and hired people that were smarter than I am.

I wouldn’t say I flipped a switch one day. I gradually started talking to the members of my team and saying, "You consistently have brought the smartest ideas about how we evolve this process … why do I need to be in the room talking with providers? Can you take it on?"

I just started to ask, “Am I value-added here?” I was feeling pressed at both ends and [realizing] I can’t control what’s going on. But just like I’m building partnerships on the home front, let me build some partnerships here – and not be afraid to talk to colleagues, talk to my direct reports, and say, "I don’t know what the solution to this problem is – why don’t you help me out on it?"

That really is when I became a huge proponent of this idea of teams. That core team – whether you’re parenting or running an organization – there’s nothing more important than alignment and cohesion on that team.

Follow Children's Home Society on Twitter at @HelpFLKids.

Photo courtesy of Mike Shaver

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