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Rules for Entrepreneurs #3: Avoid Founderitis at All Costs

by Steve Fisher on April 9, 2009

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leadershipbuttonIn this next rule in our series “Rules for Entrepreneurs”, Rule #3 deals with the affliction of “Founderitis”. Don’t know what it is? Sound like a weird dermal disease?

Wikipedia defines Founderitis as “the unhealthy condition that afflicts many companies whose founders maintain a stranglehold on organizational leadership. While many companies owe their success — and in fact their very existence — to their founders, those same individuals can create chaos that ultimately leads to the organization’s collapse. The challenge to founding CEOs and boards of directors is to take steps to change conflict and chaos into opportunities for growth.”

Founders, because they are not detail-oriented and are driven by their exclusive devotion to mission, often disdain management tasks. At some point, staff members begin to complain to the CEO or perhaps even directly to the board, calling for more systems to be established. Founders, comments Linnell, may “see all such challenges as malicious or wrongheaded or an abysmal waste of time in the face of the real (mission) work of the organization. This can lead to all-out battles between the champions of mission and the champions of systems.

While this may not be a disease that makes you sick, you sure can feel stressed and nauseous working for someone with this “affliction”. Unfortunately, I was someone who used to have this problem in a bad way. Over time I have learned that hiring people smarter than you and getting the hell out of their way is usually the best way to build a company. More on that topic in a future “Rules for Entrepreneurs”.

Symptoms of a Larger Disease that can Kill Your Company

Founder’s syndrome manifests in numerous ways. The Center for Association Leadership has an excellent list of the symptoms. The leader who suffers from founderitis exhibits these types of behaviors:

  • Gives short shrift to planning activities, staff meetings, and administrative policies;
  • Is reluctant to relinquish strategies and procedures that worked in the past, although circumstances may dictate new approaches;
  • Neglects to institute new systems, even though the board has formally requested them;
  • Seeks and accepts little input from others in making decisions;
  • Sees all challenges as hostile and drives away staff and board members perceived as disloyal; and
  • Refuses to delegate authority.

Treat the Personality not the Problem

Managing through a fit of founderitis requires a tricky mixture of growth opportunities, board involvement, and a firm delivery method. In the mean time, here are a few things you MUST do to beginning shed the affliction of Founderitis from infecting your company:

  • Respect the need for planning activities, staff meetings, and administrative policies;
  • Realize that as the company grows circumstances may dictate new approaches;
  • Institute new systems with approval of your board;
  • Seeks and accepts input from others in making decisions;
  • Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
  • Accept the fact that you can’t do everything themselves and you need to bring on people whose strengths complement your own.
  • Separation of your identity and goals from your role as a founder.
  • Accept that the organization’s success no longer depends solely on your creativity and decisions but instead requires the input of partners who are equally or perhaps more skilled than you.
  • Dance around the room to let things loose
  • Shift responsibilities to worthy successors and trust them to fail and succeed.

Don’t worry if you can’t over come this there is a simple solution. Get your board to hire a professional CEO and take a long vacation.

Do you have Founderitis and not even know it?

Do you see yourself in these words? Have an errie feeling that you might be like this or working in an environment where you engender Founderitis?

First, read this article again and see how many symptoms you may have already. If you notice some, ask those around you if you fit this profile. Tell them it is ok to tell you if you do and be very honest. If you are a classic case of Founderitis then go back one section in this post and follow the instructions on beginning to let go. This is not something that will happen over night. It took you all your life to build up these habits and it can take just that long to work them out of your system.

Photo Source: iStockPhoto

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