Founders don’t make great CEOs.
It’s something that I call the Founder’s Dilemma, and if recent events are anything to go off of, it’s truer now than ever before. If you’ve ever worked at a startup you probably experienced the Founder’s Dilemma first hand.
The ONE Thing All Founders Eventually Realize
I’m speaking from experience here. Founders are great at starting projects, but usually not passionate about managing them.
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I LOVE starting things. I get tingles of excitement even thinking about starting something new, seeing an idea become reality. For me, I am ‘in flow’ when I am creating something new, taking an idea from the whiteboard to real life. It’s something I’m really good at. Yet I’ve become a CEO-type having to manage and administer the business. And even though I’m capable, it’s exhausting.
I can do it, but does that mean I’m the best person for the job?
There are always exceptions to the rule, sure – but launching a real business and successfully running it over the long haul are completely different jobs. They require different skill-sets and demand different kinds of leadership. Start-ups only make it when their founders are passionate about what they do, and from my experience, they’re not usually passionate about, or very good at, managing.
Building a vision, and chaos
Founders are great visionaries. They are inspiring leaders and tremendously devoted to their team. As a founder myself I can tell you that to be one, you have to be so determined to succeed that you’ll do almost anything and make sacrifices in life most people could never even fathom.
Unfortunately, they also create chaos. They have no patience for the details, get distracted by shiny stuff, and always want to implement every single one of their ideas “right now.”
Those aren’t bad things, necessarily. After all, you can’t create successful businesses without them.
As founders, we often refer to our companies as our babies or children. However, like parents, we don’t let go easily. The vast majority of founders rarely know when to relinquish control and let their child grow on its own, which is one of the most important decisions a parent (or founder) can make.
Running your business as the founder is great – until it’s not
We are usually convinced that only we can lead our startups to success. “I’m the one with the vision and the desire to build a great company. I’ve been here from the beginning. I have to be the CEO – the one running the show.”
As our companies grow, founders typically face a dilemma—one that many aren’t aware of, initially. On one hand, they were the ones to set the vision and position the company for success. It wouldn’t exist without them.
On the other hand, actually running a company, taking a good idea or product and making it profitable, taking a small team and turning it into a corporation of thousands, is a completely different task.
What they need to be asking themselves is: would they rather be successful or remain king of the castle?
The skills of a CEO versus a founder
A typical CEO is an integrator. They are great executors, great managers. They hold people accountable and create consistency and prioritization. Lastly, they harmoniously integrate the leadership team, and ensure that the founder’s vision is executed (and doesn’t remain a pie in the sky).
It’s rare for a founder to actually possess both skillsets of the visionary and integrator.
Being a founder means you have to fill both roles at first, but as you grow, you need to face a hard truth: you might not be the best option anymore.
If you want your company to truly succeed, you need to able to accept this. The difference between a founder who succeeds and one who does not is how well they accept their own limitations, and the potential in others. Do not let the feeling of control inflate your ego and prevent you from making the necessary decisions for your company.
My advice for first-time founders
Here’s a piece of advice I give to first-time founders: learn to give up control. Hire amazing people who are better than you at what they do (and what you’re trying to do). You’ll look like a genius.
Some of the smartest founders I know understood their limitations and involved someone else to manage their company. It freed them to work on the things they’re passionate about, it made them less stressed, and it made their companies more successful.
I know it did for me.
By Ron Gibori
Ron Gibori is an American recognized entrepreneur and award-winning creative director at Idea Booth–a creative think tank. His work with mtvU on the “Half of Us” pro-social campaign received several Emmy nominations and won a Peabody Award. Ron frequently writes about entrepreneurship, leadership, creativity, and innovation.
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