How many founders do you know who take a proper summer vacation? Or, who even grant themselves one day off, device-free and completely checked out and not checked in to email, Slack, and a multitude of constant communication platforms? I bet you can count them on your hand.
I just took a week off with my family to celebrate my fortieth birthday (and let's be clear, with my two young children, time 'off' means something else entirely). But what I've learned over a long startup career is that working 'til you drop is not a badge of honor--it's a sign of founderitis: that well-intentioned tendency for founders to believe they need to be a part of every decision and to solve every problem.
Founders are wired to think about the business all of the time. And that's a risk, both to you and to your company's success. The best founders know to ask for help.
Let's be crystal clear -- your job as a founder is to: inspire, hire, retain, and never run out of money. So avoid getting consumed by founderitis. Here's how:
Recruit talent (and by "talent" and "employees" and "resources" I truly mean business partners) who can help you manage and scale each area of the business, and have the track record to show it. Hire experts you can trust implicitly to meet goals and put out the fires without micromanaging. The best founders pull themselves out of the business slowly by hiring capable people who can run things and make smart decisions. The founder no longer has to be involved in the daily happenings if they do not want to be. It becomes a choice. They trust their team (sometimes more than themselves). Pay them well if they out-perform.
Respect the Plan
Create an arrangement of transparency, accountability, and honesty. Have your team draft and present a strategy that you mutually agree will meet the established short-term and long-term goals. Make your team commit to this plan and hold them accountable. And you need to commit to things, too--no unnecessary pivots or last-minute brilliant ideas. Sure, you can iterate, that's fine--but do it based on data from user discovery when operating against the plan. Not through "gut." This is what the best CEOs do so they can focus their attention to growing the business
Stay On Top of It All
There's a difference between taking a step back and taking a step out. Create a rhythm to constantly meet with your experts to make sure the trains are moving along according to plan. Figure out a meeting cadence based on both of your work styles--no one likes to be caught off guard. Whether it's a weekly one-on-one where decisions are made, or a weekly email update with a 10-minute phone call for follow-up questions, do what works best for you and your team, set a structure, and stick with it.
Rewrite Your Job Description
Stepping back a bit can be a tough transition for a founder who has put their blood, sweat, and tears into building the business; who considers the company their baby; who has rolled up their sleeves from day one to play the role of salesperson/web developer/email marketer/social media manager until you had the runway to hire. Founderitis strikes when paranoia seeps in that you can and should be doing it all. But fight it by redefining what your best use of time will be. Maybe it's thinking about fundraising, maybe it's thinking about building out that expert network. But I can assure you that you'll find it is no longer talking to every customer, putting in place every system, spearheading every product decision, nor spreadsheeting and implementing your big ideas. If you find yourself managing the engineering team and product pipeline you probably need a new job description (unless you're the CTO and founder).
Take a Vacation Day
Seriously. Just do it. Science has proven that taking regular vacations can lower your risk for heart disease, improve your mood, improve your sleep, and increase productivity, too. It's also good for team morale--when they see it's okay to take a day off, vacation anxiety goes away. Even more so, it can grant you a fresh perspective on business challenges. Getting out of the weeds, even for one day, can help clear your mind, reset priorities, and look at decisions and problems with a new lens.
In the end, lead by example. When people can trust each other, and their ability to get it done, the result is a balanced and positive culture that performs through teamwork--an environment that's not centered around one person.