What is Founder's Syndrome?

What is Founder's Syndrome?
Photo by Austin Distel / Unsplash

The journey of a founder is no easy feat. When a company is established, the founder often takes on the chief executive officer (CEO) or board chairperson position.

The first CEO has the unique chance to recruit like-minded associates to support the company's mission and goals to serve on the board. As the first board head, they can ensure that a chief executive with similar objectives manages the organization's daily operations.

The company is healthy and growing until a surprisingly prevalent sickness hits it. The same qualities that helped the entrepreneur get the business off the ground hinder its progress.

The business becomes afflicted with what they call "founder's syndrome."

What is Founder's Syndrome?

When a company's founder—the person whose vision and talents led to its inception and early success—stays on for too long, it can run into problems with scalability and culture. This is known as "founder's syndrome" or "founderitis."

The company no longer pursues its stated goal but caters to its creator's whims. The syndrome's name suggests it only affects a single individual, but it's an internal issue that has far-reaching consequences for the whole company.

Starting a business requires charm, vision, persistence, and a willingness to roll up one's sleeves. However, more advanced management knowledge is needed to grow a company as it ages.

But when a company develops, a more nuanced grasp of management is needed to take it to the next level. It's unusual for a single leader to possess these skill sets.

The company usually suffers when a company's founder remains heavily involved in the company after its success. The founder, staff, and business are all at their whim and mercy if the leader lacks strong intellectual and emotional intelligence.

To successfully steer a larger, more complicated business into the future takes more than the passion and charisma required to run a successful startup.

Causes of Founder's Syndrome

The founders shed the most emotional and physical capital in the early stages of the company's formation. Its creation would have been impossible without its founder.

Nonetheless, all that work makes the founder emotionally invested in the business. It's common for a company's founders to talk about the business like it's their child. While it's natural to take some measure of satisfaction from seeing something you helped design succeed, it's also important to remember that as a business evolves, so do its requirements.

Although attributes like persistence, charm, resourcefulness, and single-minded attention are essential for starting a business, they may not be ideal for keeping the company running once it's up and running.

Some of the founders can't face facts. Founder's syndrome occurs when a person becomes emotionally attached to their work and refuses to let go of control out of pride or stubbornness.

They believe that they are the most qualified person to make judgments at all times since they were the ones who founded the firm and that without them, the business will fail.

Because of this, they disregard the opinions of their other board members and put off making necessary organizational changes for fear of derailing their goal. They stubbornly refuse to discuss a succession plan, and they control all major and little decisions.

Problems arise if leaders fail to transfer authority and refuse to adapt to new circumstances. And if it is not addressed, it can damage the company irreparably.

Signs of Founder's Syndrome

While nonprofits are more likely to experience founder's syndrome, for-profit businesses (particularly small to medium enterprises) are not immune.

So, how do you recognize the problems within your company? Some typical red flags include the following:

·   The founder decides everything without using a formal procedure or getting viewpoints from others.

·   The organization is reactive rather than proactive; there is no official strategy.

·   Staff meetings are irregularly convened to organize the workforce or delegate duties.

·   There aren't enough possibilities for professional growth or for workers to connect with and learn from others (when the entrepreneur is micromanaging, he doesn't see the need for this).

·   The organizational infrastructure is underdeveloped and insufficiently effective.

·   The business lacks benchmarks for long-term success. And the founder avoids or opposes any attempt to build them.

·   The founder struggles to adapt to change and stifles organizational development.

·   The founder hires incompetent friends as key employees; they get compensated for loyalty rather than accomplishment.

·   Talented and experienced hires cannot contribute to the company's success because they lack the power to carry out their responsibilities.

·   Opposing the founder is strongly discouraged.

·   The opinion of the founder always trumps superior ideas.

·   The founder expresses public resentment when obliged to assign tasks to others.

·   Anyone opposing the founder will be shunned or expelled and considered a disruptive influence.

·   There are no plans in place for leadership transition at this organization. The company's fate is tied to its founder.

Dealing with Founder's Syndrome

The creator or leader themselves have the key to treating founder's syndrome. Will they be able to see what's taking place, understand how they've contributed to it, and be open to making adjustments? Not as long as everyone acts as though nothing is wrong.

Recognizing founder's syndrome as a problem and encouraging others to do the same is the first and most crucial step toward recovery.

This may seem terrible if you have a deep-seated fear of the company's founder. However, it is important to remember that your leader's dedication to the company is genuine and might prove useful in this situation.

Here's how to overcome and recuperate from founder's syndrome:

·   Speak up. Use firmness and candor rather than harshness and vengeance. Provide specific instances to demonstrate the effects of founder's syndrome and the problems that have persisted in hindering the company's progress.

·   Be encouraging. Most companies' success can be traced back to the efforts of their founders. That being said, it's important to remember that they may benefit from formal mentoring to identify issues and make the necessary adjustments to their leadership style.

·   Recognize the need for assistance. Equally, as no individual should have too much sway inside an organization, neither should one person be relied upon to resolve complex issues within the group. Experts should be brought in as needed. Make sure your top-level executives are part of the transformation. You might conduct surveys of your employees and clients to get more perspectives and input.

·   Refocus on your task at hand. Don't lose sight of the company's original mission. Values should be reviewed and perhaps reformulated. To achieve the goal, everyone in the company must work together; hence it is crucial to stress this point.

·   Encourage people to work together and have a common goal. The group as a whole has to be refocused on its mission. Start making the most of the skills of the employees. Learn to accept suggestions without dismissing them out of hand.

·   Instead of being reactive, be proactive. Goal-setting, infrastructure development, and process implementation may proceed once you've re-established your focus on the objective. Then, begin preparing for the future, from organizing, planning, preparing for succession preparation, making a sale, and more. Putting these measures in place will result in a long-lasting, predictable, and less stressful model for everybody involved.

·   Track your development. Determine the metrics that will indicate success and closely monitor them.

·   Accept new culture. If you've done everything properly, it'll be like starting again at a new company in a fantastic way.

Conclusion

The world would be very different if founders didn't have such unwavering faith in their abilities, charm, and thirst for adventure.

However, they must also recognize the evolving nature of their work. They need to be flexible enough to adapt to new situations and learn to get along with others.

Entrepreneurs should be encouraged and supported as they seize the many possibilities to launch businesses that will arise in the years ahead. With the demand on businesses to swiftly adapt and change, the future will also provide greater opportunities for founder's syndrome to appear.

While it's true that both the recognition and management of founder's syndrome present certain challenges, this is no insurmountable obstacle. Founder's syndrome can be treated, and the business can be revived.

About the author
Founder Club

Founder Club

Read case studies & stories from Founders building successful businesses.

Founder Club

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Founder Club.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.