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Founders Fatigue and what to do about it
October 13, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments
I was doing a coaching call with an owner. We were discussing strategic changes he would like to implement that could dramatically increase revenues, address customer needs more quickly and efficiently, improve customer retention rates and provide his employees with significant income growth. His company was already quite successful and actively encouraged employee engagement through open-book management, team bonuses and profit sharing. His proposed strategic changes made perfect sense. I could hear the commitment and passion in his voice – until he began talking about his people and their reaction to his ideas. His tone changed as he shared employee resistance to expanding roles and new opportunities. And then he said, “I have owner’s fatigue.”
He didn’t say, “I’m burnt out”; he simply used the term “fatigue” to describe his current state as a company founder that is facing yet another uphill battle to take his company – and his employees – to a better place. Being burnt out is a dismal state where leaders barely have the strength to raise the surrender flag. Founder’s fatigue is a condition that owner’s experience after years of pushing and pulling their companies up all of those “next levels” and through all of those inevitable challenges. Founder’s fatigue is what owners feel as they stare up that steep slope to the next level of success. The question is: how long will you stare at that next level before saying, “Lets do this”?
Here are some no-compromise leadership insights into preventing and overcoming founder’s fatigue:
- You’ve been here before: When you started your company, you were in high-risk mode. Everything was on the table to win or lose. You pushed yourself and your team to achieve hard-earned breakthroughs and successes. Every next level effort tested your tenacity and ability to lead through adversity. You became a veteran of business by having fought the hard battles, experiencing many victories among your share of losses. Here you are about to engage in yet another business battle that you know your company must fight. Founder’s fatigue is simply what you feel because you know and understand the task before you. It’s natural to feel founder’s fatigue. You also know that it’s your responsibility to initiate the command to move forward. You know the way.
- Stop feeding the parking meter: The big danger of founder’s fatigue is when owners keep feeding the parking meter to avoid moving forward. Eventually you’ll run out of coins. Eventually your team will get tired of watching you feed the meter and talking about great things that will happen. There’s nothing wrong with parking for a while to rest, regroup, plan and gather the necessary resources, but as the leader, it’s up to you to hit the launch button and initiate change. Your team will not hang around indefinitely waiting for you to decide if you want a relationship with the parking meter or the opportunities that are waiting beyond the horizon.
- When the train leaves the station: It’s amazing how founder’s fatigue seems to mysteriously evaporate when the leader finally hits the launch button. Wheels start to turn, engines begin to hum and excitement builds once the journey begins. Muscles warm up and the pace gets faster and easier to sustain. Getting your train out of the station is the fastest and most efficient way to overcome founder’s fatigue. All aboard!
- Relentless communication: All change requires relentless communication and information flow. That’s the only way to achieve synergy. Relentless communication is the responsibility of leadership. Relentless communication reinforces the importance of reaching the destination and what it’s going to take to get there. Relentless communication allows for quick adjustments to the obstacles you are sure to encounter. Founder’s fatigue cannot take hold and survive in a leader that is on task and engaged. Pick up that megaphone and make your voice heard.
- Fearless leader factor: One of the prime feeders of founder’s fatigue is dealing with diehard change resisters. Over time, it’s natural for people to settle into “their work” to the point where any change is regarded as trespassing on their turf. Of course long-term employees deserve respect for their loyalty, but when they become a roadblock to progress, you need to help them decide whether they want to move forward or get off the train. Yes, it can be emotionally draining to get change resisters onboard, but it is even more draining to allow change resisters to remain steadfast as roadblocks to your initiative. The fearless leader factor must be used to resolve the stalemate so the company can move forward. Friendships may be lost and feelings may be hurt, but this is about protecting the company and the team. It’s the tough work of leadership.
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