In the last part of this short series on founder’s mojo, we discussed that the founder’s most important job was to focus on their biggest business growth opportunities, but they’re usually not doing this because they’re wearing far too many hats.
Past a certain stage of business, it’s impossible for founders to effectively stay on top of all of the important functions in the four key dimensions of business - strategy, marketing, operations, and finance. What tends to happen is that they get stuck in operations – to use Michael Gerber’s phrase on this one, they’re working in the business, not on the business. Since all of their founder’s mojo is consumed either by what they’re working on in operations and the switching costs of jumping from thing to thing, there’s not much left to tend to the other dimensions of business.
Which means at precisely the time founders should be asking the five critical strategic questions about their business, they’re instead working on yesterday’s business, in the worst case, and, in the best cases, they’re asking those questions but haven’t built the processes, systems, and people to help them address the answers to the questions.
To build a thriving, sustainable company, founders have to move from being the chief fire-fighter to the chief future-builder. (Click to share – thanks!)
Most founders know where they need to go and also know that they’re stuck in the fire-fighting loop. Sometimes they don’t know why, though, so the discussion below is the common way I’ve seen this play out in my experience and research.
#1: The Bootstrapper Mindset
Initiative and vision are two hallmark characteristics of bootstrappers. They’re the kind of people who see that something needs to be done and don’t wait around for someone else to do it.
This “I’m doing it because it needs to get done” mindset is absolutely essential for starting businesses. This mindset and a tolerance for uncertainty is what separates the people who start businesses and the people who’ve been thinking about starting a business for decades. (It’s also the difference-maker between people who get promoted and people who hit a ceiling – while there is very definitely a floor for bootstrapers, there is no ceiling.)
Overtime, though, the healthy Bootstrapper Mindset turns into …
#2: The Bootstrapper Habit
Eventually, bootstrappers stop thinking about what they’re getting involved in because it’s turned into a stimulus-response habit. If it shows up on their action list, they start taking action.
As they continually take those actions, they build an efficiency curve with what they’re doing, as well. If initiative and vision are the seeds of founder’s mojo, their familiarity with and repetition of the foundational activities of their business is the water that makes it grow.
The downside to this, though, is that even when they start seeing that there’s more to be done than they can do, founders don’t start hiring and delegating because their teammates are just so much slower than the founder, even after they’ve trained them how to do it. Why spend all the time hiring someone and training someone only to have them be a third as fast as you? (I get this one all the time.)
Let’s just sidestep the fact that founders usually start businesses in something where they’ve already logged many of their 10,000 hours AND someone else normally trained them AND they’ve accrued more of those hours in the context of their own business. It’s impossible for someone else to come in and perform at the level of the founder unless the founder hires someone who’s doing something the founder doesn’t know how to do. (More on this below.)
Bootstrappers see the world a certain way and forget that other people don’t see the world that way, too. They’re often rather frustrated to find that the people they hire need to be told what to do, and, in the earlier stages of their employment, how to do it. Bootstrappers believe people should just get hired and start doing what needs to be done because that’s exactly what the bootstrapper would do.
Many founders dabble with hiring and find themselves quite disappointed. From their view, the people they hire are slow and lacking initiative. They then only hire people when it’s absolutely necessary and for the minimal amount of time required for their teammates to do what they need to do.
Which leads to…
#3: Having to Sort Through the Bucket of Marbles
Let’s imagine that founders’ core tasks are a certain kind of marble in a bucket of myriad kinds of marbles. They only need to see, process, and work with one kind of marble in the bucket.
To get to those marbles, they have to dig around all the other kinds of marbles. But, since they have the bootstrapper habit, they see, process, and work on all the marbles. They’re already there, after all – why not just go ahead and get it taken care of?
Even in the case where they don’t work on the other marbles, they either have to inhibit their natural impulse – and inhibition is the most cognitively taxing of all of the different functions – or they have to wonder who’s going to mess with all of the marbles and when they’re going to do it. And if they’re paying people, why are there so many damn marbles in the bucket in the first place?
They’ve yet to train and expect their teammates to hand them the marbles they need to see OR trained themselves to focus only on their own marbles. That boils down to …
#4: Insufficient Trust
While this is #4 on the list, this is really the root cause of why so many businesses get stuck. Founders strangle the growth of their company because they just won’t let go – they become behavioral control freaks even if they don’t view themselves as such or despise control freaks.
If founders don’t understand founder’s mojo, it’s easy for them to not trust their teammates’ ability to perform well. Most of their experience is with people who aren’t as efficient and initiative-taking as they are, for even if they see that it needs to be done, they don’t know how to do it. They’d either have to spend a lot of time figuring it out OR pay someone else to, which amounts to the same for them – lost revenue. Lost revenue because the founder could be going out and getting more customers or funding, or lost revenue because they have to pay someone else. Is it really worth it?
Underneath all of this is that founders don’t trust themselves. Did they build a business that will make it? Did they pick the right strategy, business model, and market? Are they actually going to be able to lead and pay people month to month? What if it doesn’t work?
Inside the armor of confidence, resiliency, gumption, and brilliance that founders don to get things done is a squishy human being who’s battling shades of the demons we all face.
#5: The Value Crisis
“If I’m not involved in the day-to-day of the business, what will I do? What am I contributing to the business?”
I’ve heard this one quite a few times, too, and I’ve learned to prep my clients about it as we get close to Stage4. Things “slow down” for them substantially because the people we’ve hired and the systems we’ve created or are being created are very rapidly replacing them. Because most early stage businesses are built via the Flintstone method – for the business to grow faster, the founder’s feet have to move faster – their operating assumptions tell them that them moving slowly means that the business is moving slowly.
And, once these founders slow down, they can start to think about things at a deeper level than they have before. They become aware that the kind of leadership that will be required at the current stage of business is much different than what they’ve been delivering as a leader before this. They have to learn to work through people - which means trusting more, leading more, and letting people do their jobs without interfering with them, even if the way her team goes about doing their job is different than the way the founder would or did do it.
Long-term considerations like compensation planning, benefits-creating, and succession planning become more important, for the questions founders must answer is not “how do I solve today’s challenges or pursue today’s opportunities?,” but, rather, “how do I ensure that other people can solve tomorrow’s challenges and know which opportunities to pursue?” Which means they have to figure out how the people on the team today will either be on the team tomorrow or how they’ll train and mentor the people who will be.
And, lastly, some will start to take their exit plan seriously, because they recognize that, finally, the business can survive and, perhaps, thrive without their founder’s mojo. They recognize that their true value is not their personal value, but the value of the enduring company they’ve created.
Founder’s Mojo + Trust = Long-term Success
While this particular piece has highlighted how founder’s mojo stifles business growth, it’s important that we remember that it’s how it’s being used that has a strangle-hold on the business and the founder’s insight, attention, and willpower is one of the ingredients of the business’s secret sauce. No founder should power down their mojo, but they should make sure they’re using it to work on the growth points of the business.
Trusting their strategy, their team, and their systems enables founders to do this because it allows them to turn the reins over to other people who can drive the business while the founder drives the direction of the business. Well-defined strategy and smart, committed people can figure out how to get where founders want to go, but only if the founder is providing sufficient leadership.
While I’ve seen this play out time and time again in the world of business, I learned this lesson as a military officer. If you take care of your people and do your job as a commander, everything else works out. You don’t have to be everywhere – you can’t be everywhere anyway – but a good leader doesn’t have to be physically present for their presence to be felt. Leadership and trust is how generals command legions and captains command companies.
And it so turns out that it’s how great founders build enduring, remarkable companies.