Founder's Syndrome: If you love it, set it free

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Facilitated by Colin Sagan and Lisa Jervis

Session Description

Classic Founder's syndrome symptoms:

  • Institutional knowledge is not being effectively shared throughout the organization
  • Folks outside the organization approach/see founders differently from newer members
  • The existence of an unequal sense of ownership/investment in the work
  • The existence of a founding narrative that doesn’t feel inclusive of all members’ experience
  • Defensiveness arises when discussing the above items

Come talk about your experiences as founders or working with founders. Presenters will share their experience (spanning many sides of this issue) and are excited to hear what folks want to talk about. We'll talk about warning signs and brainstorm ideas for challenging the negative power dynamics that are all too common as projects / organizations grow.


Session Notes

  • Go around about what people have founded or what your position is in relation to founders
  • Problems are often very complicated
  • Bad communication is a hard problem
  • Founder's Syndrome is tied up with growth and success as well.
  • Founder's Syndrome is often treated as a pathology and it is not an illness
  • About patterns of growth and of responsibility
  • Shift from having all the responsibility to sharing
  • Is there a website or resource addressing Founder's Syndrome?
    • Informal stuff, management seminars geared towards corporate stuff
  • What are the symptoms?
    • Don't give support to employees
    • Resistance to change, micromanagement
    • Difference between delegating and support the new person to actually do it - making sure institutional knowledge is shared out - documentation
    • People often associate the founder with the organization
    • Defensiveness
    • Resistant to input
    • When trying to get funding, founders will not want to write grant proposal, just get funding for their idea

Founder's Syndrome is partly the behavior of the founder, but often a lot more the action of the others in the organization. Usually embedded in the culture of the org.

Is Founder's Syndrome a good thing or a bad thing? Generally bad - but it is a transition thing.

Having a succession plan can help. Though sometimes it works on the client side that you don't announce a founder leaving it can be good.

It isn't a good or bad thing, it is just about communication practices.

The fear of the founder leaving and no one steps up is perhaps unfounded.

Discussion about passion and sustainability.

Book "What got you here wont get you there?"

What are ways to address when founder's syndrome is operating in an organization?

  • Tough question.
  • Starting the conversation before the problems start would be ideal
  • Discussing issues of power (of which this is a subset), is really important
  • Some people would respond better to discuss this as a big problem
  • How to do you talk about the narrative of how an organization started?
  • Encouraging ways for new people to claim ownership of the projects of the organizations

Founders love the organization that they founded and want them to succeed.

  • Often burnt out, felt burdened by taking all responsibility

I think it is a rare founder who wants to hold on to power, despite the fact that they know it is hurting the organization.

For many founders, it is their identity. It is who you are. It is scary as hell to give it away to other people. So much sacrifice.

Putting together resources to share stories and help others with these issues. People haven't used it?

What do you do if there is a coup brewing?

  • I don't think you are going to see a coup. More likely to see attrition of good people, or complaints about specific behaviors

Often about communication, not listening.