In entrepreneurial circles, there is a well-known trap waiting for any successful startup visionary, the Founder’s Syndrome, which has gotten many an organization’s founder fired by the board and/or their funders. It’s what happens when the founder’s original vision and passion, which enabled the little startup to succeed originally, actually starts to hold it back from growing past a certain point.
The limits of passion and vision
Passion and vision are amazingly powerful. They can cause people to invest in even the most crazy idea. (Can you imagine what people said in 1999 when Sergey Brin and Larry Page told their venture funders their startup was called “Google?”) But, even crazy-smart ideas have their limits. Eventually, the wild-idea startup has to take on some business discipline, learn to scale and keep coming up with marketable products and services.
No matter how smart they are, even experienced entrepreneurs rarely know all that they need to know to lead a long-term successful effort. None of us do, really. All we know is that the challenges we face today will be different from those we encounter down the road. So when we fire up our engines, here’s what the smart founder needs to do to avoid the crash-and-burn fate of Founder’s Syndrome:
Fail fast and become skilled at letting go of any residual attachment to the failure. Learn the lessons the failuregave you and move on quickly.
Enjoy your successes and become skilled at letting go of any residual attachment to success. You may have to do it differently next time.
Be ready to transform yourself and your company into something altogether new. Work to put yourself out of business.
Successful Founders experience personal transformation
These all basically boil down to “become skilled at letting go and actively seek to become what the world, business and customers need from you.” When you are the founder, if you don’t transform and become capable of being more than your humble beginnings, the company can’t transform either because at first you and it are really the same. If you don’t transform, not much happens, but if the company doesn’t transform it won’t grow, scale and turn into the wealth-engine you were looking for.
But frankly, why waste the chance for a personal transformation, fueled by that thing you’re pouring your heart and soul into? Let it engergize you and give you the courage to do what we all find so difficult – to become more than we are. Let it be the impetus for your personal transformation to face your fears, experience wonderful highs, live through heart-thumping near misses and change the world.
Business is an adventure. Let it grow you into someone new.
The U.S. is traditionally the hotbed of global innovation and I believe it’s likely to continue to be well into the future. This is good because innovation changes the world by definition.
However, many of my clients have struggled with leading innovation and from perusing the leadership and business literature, most other organizations do too. I have to ask myself – why is that? Why can’t a country that practically invented innovation as a lifestyle and workstyle in places like Silicon Valley institutionalize this important capability?
After much pondering I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because innovation so often happens in the unplanned places. This is something of a conundrum for many leaders whose manufacturing B-School heritage tells them that everything should be planned out, documented and accounted for.
Innovation – like its sister creativity – cannot be planned, budgeted, shoved into a “retreat” or predicted. It happens in the shower and in the in-between spaces of life and work.
Leading innovation is difficult because you have to risk looking like a fool. Fear of shame is one of the biggest inhibitors every leader faces and many succumb to. Leading innovation is a perfect example of the kind of risk great leaders take on and fearful leaders eschew. To “invest in innovation” is to put good, hard resources out against what is guaranteed to be largely a basket of failures… except for that one “big one” that comes along every so often. On its face this looks crazy. Put out good money with no guarantee of return? Take such a high-risk bet knowingly? But when the great leader looks under the basket, they often discover that in those failures are seeds of success. Sometimes it’s a specific idea that results, sometimes it’s just reenergized employees, which can pay back in employee creativity, retention and improved customer service.
Companies who invest in their employee’s creativity often see rewards. This is what Google does. They allocate some space for that creativity to happen and it always does because that’s how people are wired. Read Daniel Pink’s Drive for highly readable research into human motivation and how it relates to your staff.
Leading innovation takes courage and in our business culture, telling everyone to put “pencils down” and chill out in the playroom (whatever that looks like for your company) still feels like an unnatural act. But then again, leadership isn’t about doing the easy thing, is it?
Innovation is a personal skill too
Creating space for creativity and innovation is not just something organizations do; it’s something people do too. We have the power to create the space in our lives for innovation to occur by simply – creating space in our lives.
Yes, it seems counter-intuitive to “do nothing” so that “something” will result – until you do it and experience that font of creativity and energy that wells up when all the other stimulus keeping your brain busy subsides. Then it makes all the sense in the world. In the silence and boredom (that doesn’t last very long) ideas are born and passions are found.
These personal innovations can enrich your life, set you on a life-changing journey or simply frustrate you until you learn to give them more space. But one thing is true, once you’ve let the space for innovation into your life, your life and your work will never be the same.
3 things you can do to create space for innovation into your life
Turn off the TV.
Give yourself permission not to answer every email.
Take an hour a week to yourself to do whatever you want. Then two. Three. Until you have to stop. What comes up for you? Pay attention.
What happens for you when you create the space for innovation? Can you apply this in your work? With your team? Have you asked your team what making space looks like for them? What would they do in that space? How can you give them more space for innovation? How can you reward them for the seeds of successes they plan there? What happens when you do?
Let’s start with the notion that you are priceless – an utterly unique mix of experience, judgment and talent. Do you feel resistance to that notion? Not true? Impractical? Culturally irrelevant? Play with me anyway. Let go of those negative ideas for just a minute. Just find that part of you that knows you’re priceless and let’s move on.
Next we’ll accept the fact that there are limited resources in any particular situation – a company, a project, a market, a country – whatever. No matter how limited, it’s important to realize that there are resources and they do find their way to people in a variety of ways. If they’re not coming to you, they’re going to someone else. Does that feel unfair? Hey, I didn’t say you were the only one that was priceless, did I?
People Aren’t Worth Anything
People – including you – are totally priceless, which makes us all worth the same, which makes us all worth nothing – because people aren’t worth money, that’s called slavery. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to access the resources we can because we have mouths to feed, bills to pay and any number of other responsibilities that we can only fulfill with money.
I have always taken an InPower approach to financial compensation – and my satisfaction with financial remuneration has fluxuated with my situation. I’ve given up money in order to obtain experience (new challenges, new expertise, new contacts or lifestyle bennies like flexibility) and I’ve taken money to use my talents on behalf of others. Now that I’m a consultant it’s easier for me to negotiate financial vs. other benefits on a project-by-project basis, but the same dynamic held for me in my corporate jobs. And I don’t regret this approach at all. In some cases, I had to take a job for less (learning later I left money on the table) to learn not to do that anymore!
One thing all this negotiation has taught me was that when it was the right job or project, money has never been the issue. I didn’t say money wasn’t an issue for the jobs I wanted, I said for the right jobs – where my employer/client and I both gained tremendously – it wasn’t an issue. More often than not, for the right job I am compensated more than I expected and sometimes more than I asked for. And what this means is that I know now that I can ask for whatever I want (within “reason”, see below) and the right jobs will give it to me.
In the Equal Pay Gap – What’s “Reasonable” Compensation to Ask For?
Here’s the crux of it. The data tells us that women still make less than men and so I believe that’s true on a statistical and social scale. They also tell you that women often don’t negotiate for as many benefits, making their total package worth less. The science of this is fascinating but here is what struck me most clearly in a recent article at Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge Blog:
Research shows that in conditions of ambiguity, if you bring men and women into the lab and you say either one of two things: “Work until you think you’ve earned the $10 we just gave you,” or “Work and then tell us how much you think you deserve,” the women work longer hours with fewer errors for comparable pay, and pay themselves less for comparable work. But if there’s a standard [that men and women know], then this result goes away. (Hannah Riley Bowles)
If find this hugely empowering because it indicates that ambiguity is often the culprit, and ambiguity is something we as individuals can deal with. How? In applying for the job we need to get information to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about what this employer typically pays, what others make, what are industry standards in our geographical location etc. The research implies that if we’re armed with such information all of us – men and women – will often negotiate for the right sized package.
This is a perfect example of how to turn an unempowering situation – negotiating salary or project fees – into an InPower situation. Armed with knowledge and your own assessment of your value, in that situation for that opportunity, employees feel confident in their ask and are likely to get a fair salary.
If you don’t negotiate for your salary,
they walk away happy that they paid you less
but wonder why they hired you.
— Kathleen McGinn
As a leader, we’re often in the position of hiring, in which case this principle works in reverse and we bear the responsibility for giving all applicants similar information about salary so we don’t unintentionally – or unethically – disadvantage some of the applicants from getting a fair salary.
Standing In Your Power in Salary Negotiations
So knowledge is good and evens the playing field a bit, but it’s not where the true power lies in the negotiation. Here’s the secret to an InPower salary negotiation: as the employee – when you make the informed ask, do you feel worth it? If they say no, do you feel like it’s their loss? If they say yes, do you make your choice fully and freely and 100% unapologetically?
The way to tell if you’re not InPower is that once you give your agreement – freely and of your own volition – you feel abused or regretful the moment you sign the employment contract or send the email saying “no thanks.” Try to work this part out before you close the negotiation. Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve said yes and if you feel at all regretful, review your negotiating position and try to come up with another response – or walk away. The power in any negotiation is held by the person who is most willing to walk.
As the employer you need to make sure you’re InPower also. Did you make a fair offer based on researching the comps? Was the applicant adequately informed of the salary range? Was the applicant fairly treated?
If the answer to all these things is YES! then no matter which side of the negotiation you’re on, you cut a good deal and can feel proud. Even more importantly the actual dollars involved have just become largely irrelevant. Social stats be dammed.
Sure it takes some work to get the information, work through some of your own demons about self-worth and competitiveness and stuff, but hey – what are you worth to you?