27 March, 2023
During my years of working as a consultant, I have regularly discerned a gap between leaders’ vision of what their teams should be doing and their teams’ understanding of and ability to do what they do. In larger organisations, leaders regularly have a particular take on how to translate top level strategy into something that their teams can do every day, which ends up being at odds with what their teams have been historically habituated to do. As a result, teams often lose their motivation and impetus for action, lose faith in their leadership, and move on to other teams and organisations.
I have observed a consistent version of this problem in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which I have begun to refer to as The Founder’s Dilemma.
If the founder of a business manages to successfully grow their enterprise, they inevitably reach a point at which they can neither do all of the day to day things that need to be done by themselves, nor can they consider all of the details that need to be incorporated to maintain a successful business growth strategy on their own. Based on my observations, founders hit the stage of not being able to consider, or do, everything on their own when they have between five and fifteen employees. At the point when they hit The Founder’s Dilemma, they can either hold on too tight and stifle their people and business, or relinquish some control to empower their people and further their vision.
Of course, some founders combine control and empowerment and send mixed messages to their people, which is too large a grey area to consider here. For the sake of brevity, founders either hold on to control and information very tightly, blunting their people’s ability to grow and contribute to the enterprise, putting future growth at risk; or they surrender a bit of control and share some information, empower their people to contribute, and the enterprise can grow because of a shared vision, responsibility, and trust.
The Founder’s Dilemma manifests itself through how a founder does, or does not, utilise communication, empowerment, and awareness to build trust.
Most founders are very aware of the passion and vision that drove them to invest their time and resources to build a business. They will often speak about how singular their vision was and describe how they pushed through each and every barrier they encountered. This story normally captures effort very well, but it often does not represent how adaptable and open to new information and opportunities the founder was along the way. Founders who can describe how their visions changed and grew along the way are far more likely to share their vision with their people, and to trust them to contribute to the growth of the enterprise. If a founder can’t comfortably describe how they an their vision have evolved, then expect them to force their people into narrowly defined roles with minimal opportunities to contribute.
Founders spend most of their waking hours doing business, or thinking about how to improve their business. Consequently, their minds are full of a myriad of interrelated and interconnected thoughts that fit together as an unspoken whole, but they are normally voiced as individual instances without connections to a comprehensive context. Consequently, founders often bark orders, or blurt a stream of consciousness, rather than briefing their people for success. Despite all of the literature concerned with the importance of effective communication in business, most founders don’t make the time to ensure that their communication with their people acts as a force multiplier for business success.
Even though founders carry the final responsibility for the success of their enterprise, they can’t be everywhere and do everything. If founders are willing to share their vision and empower their people, then they gain the advantage of an extended circle of commitment. Not everyone wants to take on vast amounts of responsibility at work, but nearly everyone is willing to take on some responsibility for the pride that comes from being trusted and doing a good job. Founders who won’t empower their people disempower their enterprise.
Founders are often rightly concerned about trusting people with their enterprise, and forget that customers had to trust them for their business to grow in the first place. Founders need to remember to create opportunities for their people to do more, so that they can see who they can trust with their vision and enterprise.
Too many small and medium enterprises are stifled by their founders’ inability to transcend The Founders Dilemma. Awareness, communication, empowerment, and trust are not easy at the best of times, but they are critical to the success of any business, particularly if its founder wants it to grow larger and more successful.
In my experience, most founders don’t have enough knowledgeable and experienced people to speak with while they are confronting The Founders Dilemma. If you are a founder, I urge you to speak with people you trust about where your enterprise is going, and to give your people a chance to show you they are willing to be trusted with more responsibility and your vision.
If you don’t have knowledgeable and experienced people to speak with, then I suggest that you should identify and engage a mentor to guide you through the process of overcoming The Founder’s Dilemma. I have years of experience of helping businesspeople to transcend The Founders Dilemma, and would be pleased to discuss how I can help you to empower your people and grow your enterprise. Please contact me via the form below.