Founder-to-CEO Transition Coach

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Dr. Mark Goulston – Preventing Founder Flounder


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“Mark is an articulate intuitive and has a clarity that is illuminating, revelatory, piercing and sometimes painful, but all times, helpful”

– Warren Bennis (1925-2014), preeminent expert on leadership in the world

Great founders do not automatically become great CEO’s

What if Steve Jobs Act 1 (pre-Sculley) could have successfully transitioned to Steve Jobs Act 3 (post-Sculley) without the body count and high drama? What if Jobs could have learned from Sculley instead of entering into a “Zero Sum” game with him at the end of Act 1, where Jobs had to leave, then stumble his way through Act 2 with NeXT and prior to Act 3, when Sculley had to leave?

Although more Shakespearean in drama than most cases of a founder not transitioning to CEO, it is far from unusual. Worse yet is to observe cases of Founder Flounder which become messy affairs from everyone’s point of view.

Many — and I mean many — founders can take their startup and land with two feet at the beginning as an early stage company. However, at that point they need to transition to “chief executive” and to lead in order to successfully grow their company.

Many founders up to that point are used to being in control when the size of the company can almost work as an extension of them.  Becoming a leader is more about empowering and emboldening people and holding them accountable.

The reason so many founders falter here is that as competent as they are about inventing and creating a breakthrough product or service is as incompetent as they are at being a leader able to generate and execute an effective growth strategy.  That’s because they are unable to gain and sustain buy in and then accountability and then performance from their people. Those often are non-technical skills they don’t excel at.

As my good friend and the world’s foremost executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith would say to such founders, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.”

Sometimes, the more insecure a founder is regarding his or her non-technical, leadership skills, the more controlling he or she may become in order to compensate (i.e. Jobs Act 1) for it. And the more controlling, the less empowering and emboldening they are. What was once the excitement they instilled in their people now becomes the fear they instill of getting thrown under the bus.

Or instead of becoming a bully, the founder becomes passive, withdrawn and replaces the excitement of their people with frustration, confusion and over time demoralization. When this occurs it greatly increases the poachability of talent.

Enter investors and/or new financial partners

In spite of the above imperfections, if a product or service is good enough or if it satisfies an unmet market need sufficiently, the company may still attract investors and financial partners.  If that happens, one of the early confidence tests for the founder is his or her ability to fire quickly and smoothly an underperforming co-founder or partner who is well beyond his or her pay grade and competence level, who cannot perform what is mission critical for the freshly recapitalized company and who cannot be retrained, coached or repositioned in the company.

At this point boards and investors begin to go from worried to frustrated to angry with the founder and if they see him or her as too destructive (as Apple did with Jobs Act 1) or too passive or incompetent, they will lose enough confidence and oust him or her.

Alternatively, if somehow the company does okay in spite of a less than effective founder and looks like a highly valuable but underperforming asset, it can become a target for activist investors or a Private Equity company that believe it can be turned around and flipped for a good ROI.

If a PE company or other investor takes a financially controlling position, the founder is given a decent check and cash infusion and told that he or she can stay if they begin to turn the company around within one to two quarters.  If that doesn’t happen, then the PE company will replace him or her.

Enter Dr. G

His high stakes therapy background, hostage negotiation training and executive coaching experience is just what such founders or PE firms need to step in, call founders on their counter productive behavior and help them turn it around.  He even wrote two books on overcoming self-defeating behavior with his first one, Get Out of Your Own Way, published twenty years ago, continuing to be in the top five self-help books at Amazon for the past five years.

Because of his unique background he can effectively intervene with such founders where more analytic types can’t. He doesn’t shame or judge these founders, but he will make it nearly impossible for them to hide, especially from themselves.

If you’re the founder we’re describing, you, like many of Dr. G’s founder clients, will thank him for not letting you continue to deceive or delude yourself which will only lead to you having to accept a payout and then leave the company you built. That may be something you don’t want to do if the company is so much a part of your identity.

And by the way, if that does happen and you go on to successfully found another company, you’re likely to run into the same problem when you’re called upon to lead and again, you don’t know how.

P.S. Dr. G works with such founders on a monthly retainer basis that includes two regular one hour meetings, telephone calls, skype/zoom calls, emails and texts and as needed contact when a founder wants to increase his or her chances of seizing an opportunity (as in meeting with a billionaire for the first time), dodge a bullet or do damage control after a negative event.

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