Letting go: The founder’s syndrome

I took a job with a mid-sized business after years in the corporate world hoping to get away from needless process, endless meetings and to get on with the job. The CEO who I report to is a great guy who is successful and entrepreneurial, the problem I have is that he insists that everything is run by him, which really hinders my job and pisses me off. What can I do?

You are in a difficult situation and the reality is that it is hard to change the behaviour of others. The one thing you can do is decide what you want to do with regards to the current situation and establish what’s in your sphere of influence and what’s out of your control.

It’s as good a place as any to begin. That way you will not waste energy and emotion on what is out of your control. Once established you can design a plan forward. Refer to Stephen Covey’s Circles of Control from his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This model is a keeper and certainly keeps me off Prozac!

You mention that the CEO you work for is ‘a great guy’ therefore I am assuming that you have a good level of rapport with him. My recommendation is simple: talk to him about the impact the situation is having on his staff and his business.

Keep the conversation non-personal, stay away from using ‘You’ messages. For example: ‘You always…’ This creates a defensive response. Also avoid too many ‘I’ messages. For example: ‘I get really pissed off when I have to run everything by you’. Instead try: ‘Having to run all decisions by you is hindering the development of the business.’

Then be clear about how it’s hindering the development of the business and the people within the businesses. A business is grown by great teams of people, not by one individual.

I also make the assumption that your CEO cares for the growth and success of his company and this may help him to look at the bigger picture. You may not get the response you want as feedback is not always welcomed or accepted at the first telling or at all. However, the question to ask yourself is can you continue to work under these circumstances? If the answer is no, then what do you want or need to do? What are you willing to risk? What will you gain?

Often the founders of a business are not aware of their controlling behaviours and the impact it has, and they are struggling to let go of their baby and allow others to influence its growth. This can be unconscious behaviour, just a habit developed and the way he has always worked.

And possibly in the early days it was necessary. Your CEO, like many before him, hasn’t made the transition yet from being the sole person at the helm to being part of a collaborative team.

This is called Founder’s Syndrome. It is when a business founder’s personal and professional growth has not developed with the growth and needs of the business.

Your CEO is entrepreneurial and he has mostly likely gone through some tough times bringing the company to where it is now. To get to this point and to ride through the tough times takes a passionate and strong individual who is decisive and motivates others.

Entrepreneurs often find the introduction of process and procedures as something that will slow them and the business down. They will generally ignore advice if it doesn’t fit with what they want to do, what they believe and if it requires them to change the way they behave.

The result is that your CEO is still making all the decisions rather than utilising the talent he has employed to help him grow his business. Ultimately, this will negatively impact the growth and sustainability of the company.

It’s often difficult to see how our behaviours impact something we love – our businesses, the teams that we employ to build our business, our families and ourselves.

The impact on a business and teams where this is present is obvious:

  • Lack of growth
  • Loss of talented team members
  • Sustainability

Like anything that we give birth to, there is a need to let it grow, gain some independence, and guide rather than control. There is a responsibility to ensure what we build can thrive without the founder/leader at the helm. This leads to freedom for the founder/leader and options to take on other interests and challenges to continue their own growth.

There are many company founders who have made the transition successfully, however they have done so by being aware and gaining an understanding of the changes that they had to make, which is not always easy and takes courage.

Before talking to your CEO take some time to understand his perspective and what’s going on in his world as he sees it. This will help you to have a balanced conversation without blame and, ultimately, help serve the growth for you all.

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian-based coaching and training company. In 1990, she co-founded a specialist IT recruitment consultancy in London, which grew to employ 18 people and turnover £11 million ($27 million). In this blog, Pollyanna answers questions from our readers on issues they are experiencing while leading or being part of a team. She offers insights on teams and team dynamics. For support and information on team days run by Perspectives Coaching see here.



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