Of course, no employee of seeming sound mind is going to walk into their manager’s office and say, “I think you should fire me and replace me with somebody better”, which is why this article is focused on founders/CEOs of small firms, a growing breed in this modern, entrepreneurial age.
But, this may still seem like a strange question to be asking, even among this elite executive grouping. Even so, it’s the essential question to be asking because research, from Noam Wasserman presented on HBR, of 212 American start-ups found that most founders surrendered management control quite a long time before their companies went public. The exact stats were that 50 percent of CEOS were not in control after three years; 40 percent were in control after four years; and less than 25 percent were leading their company’s IPO. These trends have been replicated in various industries and this shows that wildly successful founder/CEOs are a rare breed.
But, as you can imagine, founder/CEOS don’t tend to give up the reigns easily with 80 percent of them being forced to step down from according to the HBR research. They also acknowledge that the replacement process can be acrimonious and damaging to morale and can make or break enterprises.
Given the evidence and the potential fallout of founder/CEO succession being mishandled, it appears to be crucial that founder/CEOs with three years in the game should regularly ask themselves the question, “Should I fire myself?”
It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask given the circumstances, because paradoxically enough, the qualities and skill needed to conceive and start a new venture can radically differ from the qualities, skills and temperament needed to build and manage a company. There’s a name for this condition that can afflict founder/CEOS and it is called ‘founderitus.’ It’s where the founders are unable to see that the organization has outgrown their skills and requires a level of leadership that they do not possess or will not develop. They can become a liability to the organization that they created, disenfranchising staff and limiting growth.
So, how do you know if you have founderitus? There is no exact text book of symptoms, but some key signs of founderitus, as set out in a white paper by the Center For Associative Leadership, are as follows.
- Maintains a strangle hold on power and sees all challenges as hostile and dismisses staff and board members seen as dissenting/disloyal
- Autocratic and does not incorporate input from others into decision making
- Does not introduce new processes even if recommended by board
- Sticks to old approaches and strategies even if circumstances suggest new approaches are needed
- Not interested in planning activities, employee meetings and policies
It will require some honest and open self reflection to evaluate yourself against this list, and if you do recognize these signs in yourself, you may be suffering from founderitus and you might need to start seriously asking yourself the question, “Should I fire myself and hire a replacement?”