Organizational founders are special people - whether it be in business, in the church or in a not for profit. They get things going, pursue a dream and if all goes well grow an organization. In doing so, they do what many others cannot do or did not have the courage to do.
However, as they see success, they also face growing challenges to give up certain practices, procedures or prerogatives they have enjoyed in the past. In fact, unless they give up these things that they are used to doing they will either plateau the organization, becoming a hinderance to its future growth, or they will sabotage their staff who will find it increasingly hard to work for the founder.
The challenge for founders is that of letting go, learning to delegate and to trust the opinions of others as they lead their organization. Here are four behaviors that need to change as the organization grows. Whether they can or will goes to the emotional health (EQ) of the founder.
One: The small decisions
Founders are used to all decisions going through them. Inevitably this will become a barrier to growth as their capacity to make timely decisions decreases as the number of decisions increases. If one hires good staff one must also empower those staff to make decisions within the boundaries that have been set. If a founder cannot relinquish small decisions to their staff they are unlikely to see their organization continue to grow and flourish. Micromanagement might work when an organization is small but it becomes a barrier as it grows.
Two: Unilateral decision making
Here is my rule. Founders can make unilateral decisions until they hire additional management or leadership staff. At that point, key decisions must become the subject of discussion by the team as each member is a stakeholder and needs to carry out decisions that are made. Founders do not realize how demoralizing it is to staff when they unilaterally make decisions that impact others. If you have hired other leaders, bring their expertise to the table and give up the former practice of unilateral decision making. Good staff will not stay long term if their gifts and counsel are ignored.
Three: On the fly decision making
This is related to the second issue but with the added twist that "on the fly decisions" or "decisions made by the seat of one's pants" are often decisions that throw a monkey wrench into everyone else's day because a direction has been changed or some surprise has been announced that others are not prepared for. Rapid changes of direction without consultation with the key stakeholders is demoralizing as it often creates confusion to say nothing of now needing to redo what has already been done. Once you have a team it is imperative to engage that team in key decisions and not surprise them.
Central to the growth of any organization is the notion that one hires the best talent that one can and that together the team charts the course of success. That means that founders must be willing to relinquish some of their past control, trust their individual leaders to lead within the boundaries set for them and guide through metrics, coaching and relationship. How the work gets done will be different perhaps than how the founder did it. But this means that the founder needs to relinquish the sense that he/she must control everything that happens because that will strangle the organization.
The transition from a "founder mode" of leadership to a more "sustainable mode" of leadership is not easy. Certainly it depends of the quality of the team that is built. But, the most important factor is a founder who understands that they must change how they think and operate as the organization grows. What got you to here will not get you to there - it got you to here.