Founders are an enigmatic group. They're driven, creative, visionary, resilient, determined, flighty, sometimes emotional, and almost always overly optimistic. These are characteristics that in almost every instance are required to get a new venture off the ground and on the path to success.
They put in the hard yards and the sleepless nights, and they work on the weekends. They invest their own money by cashing in their 401(k) and running up their credit cards. And so when the business succeeds, it's difficult for them to separate it from their own success.
Somehow, through the trials and tribulations of getting the business off the ground, it has become intertwined with them. It's not just that their DNA is in how the business functions. They've become the major organs--brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and all.
All good and well when the team is small and everyone relies on the founder for direction, guidance, and swift decision making. The problem comes when the needs of the business start to develop and separate from the needs of the founder.
At a certain point in every organization's growth, the business needs you to act as its leader rather than as its founder. These are two distinct roles, each with their individual strengths.
Here are three examples when you should be thinking more like a leader and less like a founder.
1. Your senior team defers to you.
Think back to the last difficult decision that your senior team made. Was it a robust discussion? Did everyone in the group weigh in? Who was the ultimate decision maker?
Leaders build a robust decision-making process in their team; founders reserve the last call. The first approach builds a strong team who are able to lead the business, whereas the second builds a team that's reliant on the founder.
2. You singlehandedly change direction or pull the plug on a strategy.
Ever been in a meeting or sent an email or had a phone call where you single-handedly said, "We're not doing that anymore" and no one batted an eye? Instead, everyone just nodded and stopped doing whatever that was?
Leaders build a strategic review process that allows for adjustments through an objective analysis by multiple stakeholders; founders have great ideas in the shower and demand everyone drop everything to focus on the new shiny object. Leaders build alignment around a shared vision and direction; founders build alignment around wherever they want to go that day.
3. You remove yourself for long periods of time.
The last sign that you should start acting more as a leader of the business and less like a founder is if you've started to withdraw yourself from the day-to-day for fear that "you'll screw things up," only to return at various intervals to do just that.
Leaders understand that they are a resource to the business and need to be involved in the difficult day-to-day discussions, and founders get bored by the details and let other people take care of those until they see something they don't like and they return to shake it all up. Leaders build trust and confidence in their team's decision making, whereas founders keep everyone second-guessing.
The founder mentality is crucial for getting a venture off the ground and navigating the first few years of unknowns. There comes a point, however, when the founder mentality becomes a cap on your growth.