Sunday, August 30, 2009

Something We Wish to Avoid

Head's up for the future by learning through observation from the past.

Founder's syndrome is a label normally used to refer to a pattern of negative or undesirable behavior on the part of the founder(s) of an organization. The term is anecdotal/unofficial and does not actually refer to a medical syndrome. It is particularly common where there has only been one person leading the organization or the board of directors since its inception and is common in non-profit and commercial organizations that grow beyond their early stages.

The organization faces founder's syndrome as the scope of activities widen and number of stakeholders increase. Without an effective decentralized decision making process there will be growing conflict between the newcomers, who want a say in how the organization develops and the founder who continues to dominate the decision making process. This can be very destructive, both to the organization and to the individuals concerned and should be dealt with quickly and decisively.

There are a number of negative dynamics that can occur when an original CEO stays on beyond the initial growth period of an organization.

* The first is that the CEO's passion and charisma that initially created the successful organization starts to become a negative rather than a positive force. As the organization moves in to a more mature phase additional, professionally-trained and talented people are engaged and the board is expanded. The founder's domination of the decision making process can frustrate effective group decision making.

* The organization can, over time, come to be overly identified with the person or personality of the founder and experience a loss of public trust.

* During the early phases of the organization the board tends to be selected by the founder and are either like-minded individuals or people who can be trusted to 'rubber stamp' the founder's decisions rather than offering a more representative view.

Surviving Founder's syndrome requires acknowledgment of the problem, a plan of action, and ideally interventions by the founder, the board and also by other people involved in the organization. The objective of the plan should be to allow the organization to make a successful transition to a more mature organizational model without too much damage to either the organization itself or to the individuals concerned.

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