Are you Suffering from Founder’s Syndrome?

Some lessons are hard learned … and despite everything I know about running a sucessful consultancy, I’ve been stung several times over the years as a consequence of not sticking to an effective framework.

The experiences have cost me time, a great deal of money and, if I’m going to be brutally honest, some small measure of professional integrity.

I’m a believer – it’s part of the problem. As much as I pride myself on not drinking the Kool-Aid (how else can I be effective?) and not inserting myself into the conversation (despite the potentially attractive and seemingly lucrative offers that come my way from under-funded organisations) …

… like many who operate in the Impact sector, my eyes are always open to the projects that, if successful, have the potential to achieve significant and lasting impact.

Problems always arise, however, when vision, strategy and operations aren’t working in sync … and try as you might, when you’re a believer, it’s sometimes all you can do to not take just one little sip …

Effective relationships are built on mutual trust and respect – in this case, the respect an advisor has for your motivation and idea, and the respect you have for their expertise.

To that end, if you’re a Founder, it seems useful to consider that independent, apolitical, (dis)passionate counsel is essential for your success and understand that

the role of an effective advisor is to discern the difference between what you want and what you need, and to give you what you need

My primary responsibility to my clients and their projects is to advise them of the actions they need to undertake, in sequence, in order to achieve their outcomes – and to ensure that the pathway proposed is discussed, refined, ratified and implemented. Of equal importance is ensuring that I retain structural independence in order to ensure that the proposed strategy and tactics are not polluted by bias. The inevitable consequence of not following the rigor of this approach is that we are required to address issues that exist solely due to not following it!

While there are many institutions, organisations and industries I would love to see fail (Smoking for a Cause, Insanto, Cola Coka) …

there is, frankly, no excuse for a venture that is seeking to create a beneficial social or environmental impact through its activity to waste time and money and opportunities by going about their business in ways that are fundamentally flawed.

If you are a Founder, and stronger on vision than you are on operations, I recommend taking a massive step back from your project, radically assess your strengths and weaknesses and engage a board and advisors who are going to be ruthless in their assessment of your venture, its activities and your approach.

Because if your venture is unsuccessful, you’ve taken time, money and attention away from other ventures … and even if it is successful, we have no way of measuring what may well be a yawning chasm between what you have achieved and what you could have achieved had you approached your venture more effectively.

At the end of the day, do it right, or go and do it for someone who is – our collective future depends on it.

One Comment on “Are you Suffering from Founder’s Syndrome?”

  1. As a founder, I'll offer a firm (yet friendly) retort.

    The problem with most advisors to my series of early stage firms (mixed bag on outcomes, from outright failure to reasonable success) is that they want to tell me what to do, not roll up their sleeves and DO IT. Those who are ready to dispense with authoring high-level strategies and dig into the dirt, shoulder to shoulder are GOLD. Those who will alternately tell you what's great about your idea and how they would do it differently are a DIME A DOZEN. While it's great to have a few true advisors around, most people who bill themselves as consultants are really advisors.

    Founders MUST keep drinking the Kool-Aid — otherwise, they can't motivate the early adopters — clients, staff and investors — to span the gap from vision to reality. Any early-stage exec team is going to include good strategists. But the difference between successful firms and those that wither is the ability to achieve real-world outcomes. Usually this work is much less sexy than the strategy at which consultants proffer to excel, but it's what actually matters.

    So, if the choice is: follow your advice or you walk, then walk. If you won't follow my lead and get work done, or it's a waste of my time. There are fifty people who want the opportunity to get paid to tell me what to do, and twice that many again who will do it for free. Stop talking down to the people you're advising, roll up your sleeves and move the needle. It's all we (should) really care about.

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