Avoiding the Founder's Syndrome.

Kristi is a storyteller from the United States, whose curiosity about the world and other cultures has led her to explore far-flung places and unsung corners on five continents, including the Middle East, camera in hand. Her degrees in journalism and nonprofit management have inspired her to never stop learning. She is most passionate about tech startups, gender equity, and the future of work.

Some entrepreneurs refer to their companies as their babies, and it’s easy to see why.

A lot of effort and sacrifice go into their creation and growth. Particularly, in the beginning, an enormous amount of time is spent nurturing the startup—usually with just a couple of people at the helm.

The founders are those versatile pros who not only specialize in one thing; they must also do ALL the things.

They’ve got to lead product development, design, sales, marketing, engineering, and customer support. They build strategies to guide them and then roll up their sleeves to get the work done.

In many situations, they’re accomplishing all of this while seeking investment, which could otherwise be a fulltime job in itself.

Establishing and growing a company is a point of pride for many entrepreneurs. Yet, as a team grows, it’s critical for founders to step back and empower their new hires.

Often, however, leaders can struggle to entrust their duties to others.

There might be a handoff of responsibilities and tasks, sure, but their presence is felt in meetings, check-ins, and emails at all hours. They may likely have a strong preference for maintaining the status quo or a sense that accepting others’ ability to improve upon their work is somehow admitting inferiority of their own.

What lingers in this most insidious form of micromanagement and dysfunction is known as Founder’s Syndrome.

Warning signs include:

  • Decisions are frequently made in a vacuum. Many founders continue as solopreneurs, acting without soliciting or truly considering input from coworkers or the board of directors.
  • Change is resisted (unless initiated by the founder). Unless an entire team can surface new approaches to processes and products, innovation cannot flourish.
  • Micromanagement runs rampant. Overseeing the minutiae of employees’ work demotivates teams and obliterates trust…and it means other critical tasks go undone.
  • Delusions of grandeur exist. Having to be a Jack or a Jill of All Trades for a prolonged period has led the founders to believe they are pros in everything.

It isn’t difficult to understand how Founder’s Syndrome manifests itself. After all, these folks brought a business to life. Doing so has meant time away from their family and friends, and likely putting out more than a few fires on evenings, weekends, and even holidays.

The skills they acquired and implemented in a variety of areas may not be as broad as those of an expert, but they certainly had to be adequate to get by.

While founders most certainly deserve respect for their work to elevate the company, they also must continue to cultivate respect through the way they choose to manage and evolve their roles.

Founders’ abilities to recognize their limitations is critical for creating a startup’s healthy culture and promising future. The alternative? A slow death for their startup.

If you’re the founder, here’s what you can do ensure smooth sailing ahead:

  • Be excited about focusing.

Let others take on those projects that have been part of your broad purview, and relish the fact that now, you’re able to do a deep dive in the areas that most need your attention.

  • Recruit a diverse team + board

Nothing prevents an echo chamber better than bringing on a team and a board of directors whose experience and perspective are vastly different from your own, and from one another.

  • Delegate to experts

(Hint: you’re not the only expert.) Once you’ve passed the torch on, extricate yourself from the day-to-day operations in a given area; you’ll send the message that you trust and value your colleagues’ contributions.

  • Create feedback channels

There’s no better way to hold yourself accountable to creating a collaborative, transparent work environment than to ensure your partners, teammates, board and even advisors have the means to communicate openly with you.

  • When the time comes, replace yourself

If you’ve brought the company as far as you can, it’s time to consider other pursuits; after all, more successful founders than you have stepped out of the way to usher in prosperity for their startups.