How is your Founder’s Syndrome?

Founder’s Syndrome? … what is it, and do you have it?

Founders ought to be congratulated. They’ve risked, sacrificed and slaved for years to drag their business not just into existence, but to profitability.
They’ve endured countless sleepless nights wondering if their business was going to make it. And lived off gut instinct in the hope they’ve made the right decisions.

Founders are smart, entrepreneurial and canny and they usually don’t suffer fools gladly. On the flip side, they’re also family people, and what drives them (mostly) is family … not business.

Alas, these very traits and skills are in fact the things that lead to the worst cases of Founder’s Syndrome!

What is Founder’s Syndrome? Well, it’s an attitude that founders or the current generation of business owners have that effectively says:

“I’m the only one who can run this business,” or

“I know best,” or

“I’m the only one who can do things the right way.”

There may be variations to these statements but you get what we mean …

Founder’s Syndrome exists because the founder has put their heart and soul into the business/farm/enterprise. Career-wise, it’s what they live for … it’s all they have.

There’s a fine balance between recognising the unique skills, knowledge and experience of a founder and the need to provide space, training and experience for the next generation.

It’s not just the next generation that often feels the brunt of Founder’s Syndrome. It can be (non-family) managers and employees trying to make the business a better version of itself.

For the next gen though, Founder’s Syndrome is very real. Founders need to let the next gen screw up, learn and bring their own ideas into the business.

No one, not the founder nor the next gen, have all the answers – however, together they do. What worked 20 years ago may not be right today.

Equally, the latest thought or trend may not be appropriate for the business either. Managing this takes honesty, diplomacy, respect, humility and damn good communication.

Founders need to have a sense of comfort that their hard-won gains are not going to be squandered. (They often use far more colourful language to describe this!)

The next generation of business leaders is the answer for the future of the business. However, they do need to earn their stripes and to respect what the founder has achieved.

The founder needs to address his or her own fears and think about what they want for the next 20 years. Do they really want to be working at 60? What does retirement look like for them?

This is not an easy transition – however, it’s completely doable with the right attitude, support and approach.

Find out how you’re faring as a founder with our ‘Founder’ questionnaire. And check to see if you’re ‘succession ready’ with our ‘How Ready for Succession Are You?’ in the members’ download section.