By Farhana Huq, Founder and Executive Coach at Surf Life Coaching
While founders can be inspirational to the growth of a venture or organization, if founder exceptionalism exists within an enterprise, it may hurt everyone in the long run. How can Founders combat the effects of exceptionalism and improve their performance by changing some of their behaviors? And how can those outside looking in understand and support the Founder to be a better collaborator, employee or peer?
As a transition coach to some longtime founders of businesses and non-profits (and a founder myself), I've outlined some behaviors below that founders might consider changing in order to improve overall performance in the best interest of their leadership businesses.
1. Act more like a coach and less like a savior
Within an emerging enterprise, it's not uncommon for relationships to appear familiar in nature. If you find yourself feeling like the 'parent' and referring to your employees and those around you as if they were your 'kids,' you may be adopting savior-like attitudes without being aware of it. While I'm sure very well-intentioned, as a founder, your job is not to be a parent to your employees. It is to put forth a compelling vision, invest in and grow your people and help equip your team with the necessary resources so your organization can meet its mission. Skilled leaders know how to create the space for others to bring forth their visions, too.
In short, you need to act more like a coach and less like a savior.
A few months ago, I visited a client of mine and long-time founder to get a tour of her business' facilities. Her newly-hired Director greeted me and proceeded to show me around. When the founder appeared, she physically stood in front of her director, interrupting him, and took over the tour.
"Let me show you around," she said.
The need to control can stifle the space other leaders need to thrive. When you are tempted to interrupt and grab the reigns, or start speaking on behalf of your leaders, consider alternatives like privately offering feedback to them about how you think a specific situation should be handled, asking them what they need from you to handle similar situations in the future or delegating complete responsibility to them.
If they don't feel that you are confident in their ability to take charge of situations, they will not start to take the initiative. Spend time showing them the ropes and teaching them new skills instead of doing everything yourself. That little extra time you take can make a huge difference in the long run to grow their leadership.
2. Ask the #1 Magic Question
The question every founder should ask is this:
"Knowing I can't change the past, how can I be the best leader possible going forward?"
As a founder, people want to give you feedback, but may fear doing so because of the amount of institutional power you carry, or because there are simply no mechanisms built into your organization for them to do so. It is vital to craft these feedback mechanisms.
I had a conversation with a friend and owner of a popular restaurant on San Francisco's oceanfront. We shared how being a founder can sometimes feel as if you have no power, but are at the mercy of practically everyone. It's actually common for founders to be somewhat unaware of their own power as much as it is common for them to realize they have it and use it indiscriminately.
Similarly, those around you actually have power in their positions that they may or may not realize. If they were to go, it could compromise the whole business.
Recognizing that you and your team have power together is important. And asking the above question can be helpful in eliciting feedback from those around you so it flows both ways. Be humble and listen to what others have to say.
3. Get out of the weeds
Founders can sometimes have a tendency to be enthralled with the how-to's of their ideas, obsessing about their unique approach, process or contribution to a field.
A few years back, I worked alongside an entrepreneur who was fixated on the fact that her business process was based on some neuroscience principles. At every business meeting we had, she would talk in depth about the neuroscience and the approach. Though she was excited about her idea, the way she spoke of it had the effect of 'losing' people in the process. It was hard to decipher what the real benefit was of the service. Nobody wants to hear all about your processes and bells and whistles -- they want to be raised from the weeds and hear about the value in your offer.
If you lead from the weeds, you'll stay in the weeds. This goes for presenting critical information to your board, or pitching to funders or key constituents. Make sure you have a good grasp of the big picture and vision. Don't leave out the weeds, but just don't always lead with them.
In short, Founders should think of themselves as high-level coaches as well as executers, always seek to get feedback and grow from it, and lead with vision, benefit and impact in their services.