Founders Syndrome Smorgasboard

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Founders Syndrome Smorgasboard

Facilitated by Lisa Jervis and Ben Mauer

What is Founder’s Syndrome?

· Set of symptoms, can afflict the founder, more so the organization.

· Reluctance to share decision making

· Resistance to change

· Overinvestment of personal identity

· Overinvestment of what OTHER’S are doing

· “We always did it THIS way”

· Resistant to change

· Bringing in new people, they need to know the dynamic needs to change.

· Founder HAS to go out of routine to help grow the organization.

General Thoughts on Founder’s Syndrome

· Doesn’t happen to JUST the founder. Affects whole organization and can impede change, transition.

· Can make you devalue your own ideas, contributions etc.

· Structure the support for organization during transition, change, growth

· Seeding problems within the organization

· Organizations can have total meltdowns due to this

· Can lead to high turnover among staff

· Very good at fundraising, but cannot transition well after getting funds.

· Working relationship turns into a therapeutic relationship. Beginning to deal with an emotional landscape.

· Founder can isolate staff from the board…

· “Change management” as a process.

· What if they don’t leave anyone else in the organization alone to do the work? Determine that people could thrive better if…

· Treatment can include sense of entitlement, “you are less than me”

· Valuing your staff is important. You need to build respect among organization. You want your staff to look up to you andgive your opinions weight, but founder’s syndrome can have the opposite effect.

· Remember that the founder is NOT your enemy!!

Mitigating Founder’s Syndrome

· Need to admit what’s going on and deal with it on a HUMAN level.

· Conversation: be clear, open, and lots of communication. Problems manifest via communication issues.

· Founders assume they can go do five different things without telling other people; not feeling they are communicating openly with the founder.

· Founders need to be EXPLICIT about expectations. If it’s not clearly laid out then it sets the other person up for failure. You can’t be held accountable for something you weren’t told explicitly.

· Sometimes needs a coping mechanism to self-preserve: deep breath, zen, do basic things to have awareness and thenmove VERY carefully through the environment you are working with; what you WANT to do is WORK. Satisfaction in being able to DO work. But need to move towards doing something HEALTHY. Unwarranted stressful

· Has nothing to do with your needs as an employee to thrive. It’s a mix of ego and anxiety that needs to be dealt with by that individual /founder in a different setting (like therapy).

· Experience coping with founder should always be done, try different things. Need to center and be aware of how to do it. Moving from self-preservation to being able to thrive.

· Just because you find the ways doesn’t mean the founder will respond to them. It could help you knowing you have done EVERYTHING you can.

· Like any chronic condition, it can be managed and you can live a healthy organizational life.

· Can act like an over-protective parent.

· If it takes NO time to change, then it’s not lasting change and can be overturned constantly.

· Being open can cause tension because of direct, open communication. Doesn’t want to be told something s/he is doing is not being done well.

· Addressing it in a healthy way will set up the organization to function healthily.

· Power dynamics can work to benefit or detriment based depending on how its handled.

· Best way to communicate: Use the Conflict Resolution matrix. “I feel x, because of y. What I need is z in order to do my job.”

· Don’t TELL them they have founder’s syndrome. More helpful for staff to be able to frame it, but not in a forward discussion.

· Try and enlist other people. If there’s someone who has built up mutual trust they should probably approach the founder.

· One founder affects so many different people; one employee is only one person trying to affect the founder. Founder has disproportionate amount of power to make it better or worse. Consciousness is important.

· In the workforce we need to be transparent, honest, and open. Founder needs to take responsibility for their exceptionalism.

· Hurts founders because they aren’t getting their own work done when they are micromanaging.

· “Let’s sit down and see how we see founder’s syndrome plays out day-to-day and on the yearly calendar”

· Can you help remove the founder’s anxiety by taking over tasks? It can also build trust.


· Cultural components: oversharing vs. feelings vs. being closed off

· Suddenly employees were more knowledgeable than them and it freaks them out. Really need to be aware of the dynamic.

· Founder should focus on the relief of letting something GO.

· FOUNDER NEEDS TO ESTABLISH AND STICK TO APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES – need to look at the strategic vision of the organization, what are our 5 year goals, 1 year goals; at what point are feelings impeding what wegoing.

· The founder HAS TO STOP PUTTING THEIR WHOLE LIFE INTO IT. They’ve done it the way we’ve done it. Their story is crowding out other people’s stories.

· Organization description and birth can play into identity-founder-organization ties. You have to include everyone or you will feel disempowered or not part of the organization.