Founders Syndrome? Is It Time To Fire Yourself?

Last updated on May 6th, 2014 at 02:47 pm

This is an odd question to be asking on a Friday afternoon or whatever time you may be reading this. I mean no employee would offer to fall on their sword in a manner of speaking to allow the company to replace them with a superior employee, (unless they were paid a lot of money).

In all truth, this is not really a situation which the typical employee would face, but it is the exact question that an entrepreneur or small business leader will need to face up to and answer. And the very future success of the firm could depend on how this question is answered or dealt with.

Because, did you know that less than 25% of founders are still leading their firms as their company went through its initial public offering, according to a HBR white paper form 2008. This is a trend which the author claims is replicated many times across different industry sectors.

The problem with this seemingly benign trend is that, as many of you could probably imagine, founder-CEOs are quite clingy and are not that keen to let go of their firms. Its an understatement really as 80% of founder-CEOs are actually driven out by board and investors in an acrimonious manner that can damage the businesses, sometimes in an irreparable way.

So, why are founder-CEOS forced out in this way? The main reason is that the influential stakeholders believe that the organization has outgrown them, and that the founder lacks the appropriate leadership skills to run a larger organization effectively, making them a liability if they remain in the seat of supreme power, which is a situation that many founder/CEOS hold.

When the founder/CEO refuses to relinquish control on their tight grip on the organization, the condition has been termed founderitus or founder’s syndrome. So, what are the signs of founder’s syndrome. According to a 2004 white paper by the Centre for Associative Leadership there are several symptoms of founderitus and these are:

  • 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.

So, if you see any of these signs in yourself or in the founder/CEO of a business you are closely associated with, then there may be a founderitus situation occurring. And so what is to be done about it?

It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as dramatic as firing yourself or taking a vote of no confidence against the founder. It can be nothing more than beginning to understand where yours or the founder’s strengths and weaknesses are and developing a role for the founder which is focused on  their strength areas and delegating/empowering other individuals (some at executive) to take responsibility for areas that the founder is weak in.

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