• Maja Arnadottir

A founder's dilemma


Being the founder of a company has its own unique challenges as founders often struggle to keep up with their own creation.


Statistics show that founder-CEO‘s frequently surrender management control way before their companies go public. The famous founder role-models we remember, are a rare few.


founder dilemmas


It can prove to be quite challenging to grow and evolve as a leader within a growing and evolving organisation. Despite this, founders are not known to let go easily as four in five entrepreneurs are eventually „forced“ to step down from the CEO post. After all, aside from the desire for personal and professional success and wealth creation, founders also have the desire to create and lead an organisation.


Developing the service or product is the first order of business and founders often feel quite accomplished and successful after reaching a public offering. Since the founder got the company to a successful stage of consistently delivering a valued service, is that not proof of their leadership prowess for future challenges? Not necessarily so. Companies often go through intense growth spurts, ups and downs, unforeseen market challenges and the like, and change will prove to be the only constant of any venture. As time moves on, a company as a whole, develops new and different needs and wants. The founder has to be and become an extremely agile and flexible learner, as well as an increasingly greater communicator who can develop a high performance leadership team. A high performing leadership team will successfully learn how to divide and conquer, navigate challenges and help the founder succeed from their post as the company continues its success for future generations.


The founder's "role"


As founders do not necessarily have the business know-how of seasoned executive leaders, their fundamental „role“ is to keep the essence of the venture they've nurtured, alive for future generations to inherit and take over. A founder's job is to be a starter energy who then makes themselves replaceable (and essentially unnecessary) for the venture's future survival. Being a successful founder may have less to do with being in the midst of it all and knowing it all, and growing with it all, than in successfully letting it all go to others, over time.


One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it is pride, anger, guilt, love, hope, loss or betrayal. Change is never easy. We fight to hold on and we fight to let go.

A founder is often the one who is best suited to "be the heart of the company" and help a team remember "where we came from“ and „what we are about“ and is often a very influential participant in BIG PICTURE STRATEGY. But, a founder will eventually have to "let go" of control. Preferably by choice and by design.


Openly engaging in your own leadership transitions; and being open and candid about your vision for getting into business, as well as sharing your vision for an "exit plan" will prove to be a much calmer, more positive route than it would be to hold on to the reigns for too long.

With no apparent plan for succession, a founder may somewhat float along, feeling aimless, yet as if they are essential to the business staying alive, too afraid to let go of what is destined to become more and more; "out of their control". A stressed, unfocused and reactive parent still loves their "baby" but may not have figured out the best way to raise the child or let go of "control" in raising it.


The role of a founder is an art of surrender


The truth is, founders often get in the way of their own company's growth by standing in the way of genuine leadership growth and empowerment. Founders are known to wish for the whole pie yet undermine their teams efforts in helping to lead in its making. "Why are we doing it this way or that way? ("My way is obviously the best way! Stop changing the way we do things around here!") "This is how it "should" be done..." Reactive impulses and oversights, along with stress and fatigue followed by years of fast changes, along with any personal blindspots based in pride (or fear), will eventually lead to a founder feeling more anxious, scattered and unfocused than they were in the beginning. The role of a parent as well as that of a founder is an art of surrender.


The company is like a "relationship"


Being a leader is not all roses and daisies and growing with a company is no easier than it is to grow in a relationship with another person.


A founder often wears their heart on their sleeve and their team respects this, and is also inspired by their passion, but team members may not feel as comfortable confronting a founder about current or potential issues as they might be with any other colleague. Nobody likes to criticise a parent's upbringing of their child, now do they? We can all imagine how that might go over!? Nor would a child truly feel comfortable "constructively criticising" their own parent. The presumed defensiveness that could arise from either situation might stop people from ever trying such things. Know "your place" in the organisation and be intentional with your role and power. Invest in your team like you would invest in a great relationship.


ASK for healthy debate


In order to encourage healthy debates and camaraderie, a founder has to ask for healthy conflict and be OPEN & WILLING to create a foundation of TRUST, VULNERABILITY & STRONG TEAMWORK. After all, a founder "should“ have a desire for their organisation to continue its success after their tenure, and want to grow and evolve as Leaders. For success to be sustained in the long term; a founder has to be willing to intentionally grow the leadership team, and (somewhat) slowly but (most definitely) surely, let go of the reigns so others can step up to lead as well. Remember; You have to ASK for what you want & need, and then let it come to you and for you.

A true leader steps aside so others may shine!


It is important to remind one self that when others win... we all win! Being a great leader is an art of embracing flow which we often discover somewhere in the middle of discipline & surrender. Smoothly "designed" transitions are far better for an organisation than sudden and abrupt changes. Uncertainty and volatility can drastically change the whole dynamic of a company. When „everything has changed around here“ has become the new cultural attitude, it often causes a ripple effect of people wanting to leave the firm altogether. Abrupt and volatile changes can prove to be catastrophic for companies who have poorly synced leadership teams. Elevating, empowering, dividing and conquering is the name of your game!


want to be king or want to be rich?


A founder often has to choose between being King or being Rich as statistics show that the two are not mutually inclusive. Venture capitalists and executives who take over companies usually end up acquiring more wealth than the company's founder. Being King means you have all the control but the company does not necessarily reach its full potential. Founders commonly feel as if they are the only ones who can lead their company to success.

"They" have the (original) vision, the opportunities, the network, and the innovative mind and business model, living inside of "their" brains! But, this is just EGO talking.

The truly RICH founder, in both wealth and personal feelings of success, is the one who learned to build a high performance team, and fostered a strong VISION & CULTURE with high performance TEAMWORK. The RICH founder is the one who decided to share resources and responsibilities, and empower others to step up and lead within the company. Intent on ensuring the company's ability to continue to thrive into an even brighter future!

Just like a parent would do for a child.


the company is like your "baby"


To start with, a founder focuses on hiring "the right people for the vision" and often develops great relationships with those first hires. As finances become increasingly more complex, experts are needed and as the company grows, the free flow of creativity in doing business changes. We are meant to grow up as children just like we are meant to become more responsible as adults, and the same goes for companies. More structure is needed, new and evolving systems, processes, and hierarchies have to be established. These concepts are frequently not the founder's „life & joy“ nor their reason for getting into business in the first place! Few founders may have stated: "I went into business to create phenomenal systems and processes." Although, some might?!


YOU are the parent!


The founder is the company's POWERFUL STARTER ENERGY ... and a "parent" to the firm. A founder will knowingly (and unknowingly) create the company's culture and set the tone FOR THE WHOLE. The founder‘s style becomes the company‘s style, and the founder becomes the internal and external poster-child for the company. Now, the founder‘s name is on the big sign, the big page, the big door, if not on the big building, and since our own ventures are labours of love, the founder can become very attached to their „baby“.

Yet, as is the case with all parents, our children are not meant to be with us for eternity nor are we meant to make our children dependent on us for life! A good or great parent will not hold back on their child's growth and evolution, but rather encourage it.


Nobody parents like I do!


Sometimes, if not frequently so a founder can become overconfident about their ability to raise their „baby“ and be naive regarding the „baby‘s“ growing needs and wants. Still, the „baby“ keeps growing and the growing pains eventually become all too real. The founder may find that their financial resources, passion and ability to inspire is no longer enough for their venture to fully capitalize on the opportunities before them. No man is an island, and the population keeps growing, getting more complex, diversifying and evolving. The founder looks around at all these people, who are now a part of a growing organism, and has to hear different opinions and ideas, and endlessly soothe and consider countless of egos.

„Why did I ever get into business?“ is a thought sometimes heard from a founder just like a parent might have moments of asking themselves; "Why did I ever have kids?!" And, YES!? Why did you get into business in the first place? Just like the choice to have a child is related to loving, influencing and moulding an individual, creating a company is not too dissimilar.


Where is the “essence”?


Holding on to the WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO may become more challenging over time, and especially so if a founder frequently finds themselves in the midst of “putting out fires” and “plugging holes”. But, our WHY is our most essential guide in both Life and Business.

We all know WHAT we do and we know HOW we do it, but WHY WE DO IT... is always going to matter the most.

When a founder finds themselves being about financial results and continued survival, business can start to feel less inspiring, overwhelming, if not daunting, and definitely not as much fun!


Hold on to "YOUR WHY"


WHY did I get into business?

WHY am I still in business?

Can you clearly answer these questions for your self in this time and space?

It really might be worth digging into for a refresher?


If you are a founder relating to the words in this article, some great question to ask one self may also be these three q's:

1. Have I clearly set the tone for my company's future and begun to openly discuss, and plan my own succession?

2. Am I being clear and intentional in developing a High Performance Leadership Team?

3. Is my VISION crystal clear to my Self and others?


Note to Self: VISION precedes STRATEGY as MINDSET precedes SKILLSET...

my ENERGY is my CURRENCY!


Create YOUR OWN SUCCESSION PLAN


A succession plan is a shared endeavour of the leadership team and not something a founder has to nor ought to tackle alone. A succession plan entails openly and honestly creating the management succession, ownership succession, relationship succession, cultural succession and last but not least; the leadership succession. A succession plan requires humility and grace in letting go of control and openly sharing responsibilities.


As a founder focuses on encouraging and nurturing positive relationships and clearly defining the vision to be ingrained into the company‘s DNA, they also intentionally help to develop a cohesive leadership team by creating a culture of TRUST. The founder sets the tone for this culture as a culture of TRUST is birthed in their own willingness to be open and vulnerable about their reasons, why's, passions, obstacles, needs, wants and desires.

A great leader develops relationships by being humble, open, visionary, candid and human!


choose to BE the exception!


If you want to be the "one out of five" founder-CEO‘s who continues to help your venture thrive until your chosen „exit“, you will have to learn to embrace change, and let go of control as you choose to focus more and more on the BIG PICTURE. What is the BP? And, WHY?

May you choose to be the exception to a stereotypical founder by openly and candidly creating a smooth succession plan (with your team's assistance), and focus on willingly breaking your attachment to your „baby“.

Remember; YOU are meant to enjoy your successes and not feel trapped by success.


What can possibly stand in your way?


As with anything in Life, our ego is the only "thing" capable of standing in our way. If our ego is in resistance, denial, pride or addiction to status, command and control or any such human vices, we will obviously have a much harder time in letting go. In order to move on, grow and evolve as humans and leaders, we have to get exceptionally good at letting go. Until there is nothing left to let go of. It is a given, that a self-centred person is less equipped to encourage the growth and evolution of another. In order to truly see another person, we must first meet, and get to know ourselves, as humans and leaders. Greater leadership of others begins with greater leadership of Self.

Note to Self: Never let your ego convince you of the belief that nobody can do it better than "you". Always know enough to know for sure that there is very little this "I" can know for sure.


EGO matters are always going to be the main growth lessons for all Leaders. When we get to know our own egos, we see ourselves in others, and grow in compassion and understanding. With more heart and greater understanding, we graciously grow and evolve.

It may be easier said than done to say you want to share leadership than to act as if you do. When our words and actions contradict, people can only see us for what we do, not for what we say it is we want or need. Not following through on our own words is probably the fastest way to lose another's trust, whether it be with a partner or a team.

At the end of the day, when it comes to our ego... it's just going to be you against YOU!


95% of our relationship issues are due to lack of communication


Excellent communication skills are important but our actions reveal our inner selves more than our words do, and reactivity can be our greatest weakness. For a leader, what ends up helping the most is being able to remain calm and level-headed in storms and situations.

All too often, a C-Suite executive gets to be reactive, overly sensitive, too controlling or prideful and may intentionally or inadvertently dismiss the very people who show initiative, and willingness to step up and lead alongside with them. Founders do the same, if not more frequently so. „Why are you doing it this way?“ „This is what WE should be doing...“ (meaning what "I" think "you" should be doing). „This is how it‘s always been done...“ = WHAT "I" THINK IS RIGHT! (EGO talk).


For a founding leader, as well as for leaders in fast growing organisations; sharing leadership takes disciplined practice in humility and surrender as well as intentional and consistent efforts. Note to Self: It matters less what we say... it matters what we do.


CREATE YOUR OWN CLARITY


If you are a founder, it will be important to bridge the gap from any kind of „I“ or „me“ thinking to an „us“ and „we“ team-mindset making and building. Do not forget that YOU WANT to develop a High Performance Leadership Team within your organisation. YOUR WHY remains as a guiding principle as you graciously let go over time. Founders and leaders are also meant to "have a life", and be able to move on to new adventures, and enjoy their successes.

Note to Self: My leadership of others is rarely stronger than my leadership of Self as I create my own CLARITY.

It takes vision and character to venture into entrepreneurship and to grow in leadership but even greater, (and greater) self-awareness, communication skills, influence and learning agility to sustain it.


Eventually, a leader, whether a founding leader or not, will have to embrace the art of surrender.


For more thoughts and inspiration on leadership; check out this prior post titled;

THE ESSENTIALS OF LEADERSHIP.