Founder Syndrome – what is it and do you have it??

July 7, 2023Post by Laura Humphreys

Founder syndrome is a thing.

And if you own a business, it’s most likely that you are suffering from at least a few of it’s symptoms.

The following blog is based on my own experience of owning and exiting 2 businesses and the experience of over 100 business owners I’ve worked with over the last 11 years as a business mentor, with individuals and groups.

So what is Founder Syndrome?

I believe it is a fundamentally a very real blockage to the growth of any business which is a direct outcome of the human condition of ego.

Cambridge University definition of ‘ego’ below:

Ego: the idea or opinion that you have of yourself, esp. the level of your ability and intelligence, and your importance as a person.

When the founder of the business struggles to let go… at any stage of the business, it is because they have a very real commitment to the idea that the business cannot do something without them.  And in many (dare I say most) cases the things the business ‘cannot do without them’ are functions that in reality can be fulfilled adequately by others – with the right organisational growth plan, the right people, the right systems, the right training – and importantly, the right mindset from the founder.

Why is Founder Syndrome a problem?

If a business has an owner who continues to work hard within the operational functionality of the business, it simply is unable to grow. The reason for this is that the business owner is most likely to be the person who can direct and lead the business to greater things, but only if they have time to do this.

If they spend their time working on lower level problem solving, such as getting an urgent job out the door, they are not spending time on high quality problems such as how do we improve our competitive edge, or position ourselves to improve the quality of our client portfolio, or ensure we are well positioned to take advantage of a trend that’s hitting our industry?

What is the right mindset to avoid Founder Syndrome?

If you as the owner of your business are spending much of your time working operationally in the business – and you are a core feature in the delivery of your service or product – it’s likely there is a mindset belief driving this behaviour.

You may believe one or more of the following:

  • You are the only one with the right experience, knowledge and ability to fulfil this function (whatever the job is that you are getting involved in)
  • The standards and expectations of your clients will not be met if you don’t get involved
  • The business is in danger if you don’t get involved
  • Your current team can’t be trusted to deliver your offer without your involvement
  • Your clients want you working on their business and will be unhappy if you get someone else to do it
  • You can’t afford to hire more experienced people and you don’t have time to train your more junior people
  • The best use of your time is to be involved in many aspects of delivery of your business offering

How do you change the mindset?

It isn’t easy to change mindset.  But it is necessary if you truly want your business to grow.  To want to change your mindset you have to believe the following:

  • The growth of the business is capped by your willingness to let go and trust
  • There is always someone who can do ‘things’ as well as you
  • Your team are more capable than you might think
  • It’s OK if people make mistakes as long as they can learn and grow from them
  • Your clients/customers will accept others working on their business – they don’t really believe you should always do the work
  • Systems, protocols and training will set you free

Actions to take to shift mindset

  • Shift your priorities from ‘doing’ to ‘leading’
  • Write yourself a job description as CEO or MD of your business and make the role of CEO/MD as important as doing the day to day work – set yourself KPIs based around business development, strategy, leadership, networking, reputation building – and have someone (maybe a mentor or advisory board) hold you accountable to these KPIs.
  • Work with your team to put the systems and protocols in place that will enable them to take on more responsibility in way that gives you reassurance that things will be done to your standards
  • Be clear on your expectations and take responsibility for communicating these to your team

Free freedom from founder syndrome session

If you own a business and would like to talk about founder syndrome and how you can shift your mindset to enable growth, reach out to me for a a free 30 min pep talk on how you can shift it faster than you might imagine!

Just email me to book a time.  Or click here to make a time in my calendar.

Yours in freedom!