HAVE you ever encountered some semblance of the “founder’s syndrome” in your work as an association executive? Actually, you won’t be able to sense it manifesting itself until you’re in specific situations in making operational decisions.
The term “founder’s syndrome” refers to a set of challenges and issues that can arise within an organization such as an association, when the founder or founders maintain excessive control and influence over the organization. This can be evident in several ways:
1. Resistance to change. Founders may be resistant to change and new ideas that challenge the status quo, making it difficult for the organization to adapt to evolving circumstances.
2. Resistance to delegation. Founders may struggle to delegate responsibilities, making them the focal point of decision making and execution. While their passion and vision are essential, an overreliance on them can stifle growth and innovation.
3. Micromanagement. Founders often exhibit a tendency to micromanage day-to-day operations, causing frustration among staff members and hindering the development of future leaders.
4. Lack of succession planning. Founders may not have a clear plan for their own succession, which can create uncertainty when they eventually step down or retire.
5. Emotional investment. Founders may have a strong emotional connection to the organization they started, making it difficult for them to let go or accept different leadership styles.
6. Limited accountability. A founder’s dominant role can sometimes lead to a lack of accountability, transparency, and a reluctance to address issues which can lead to mismanagement and financial issues.
Being in this situation is not a death sentence. It is a challenge that can be addressed with thoughtful strategies to ensure long-term success such as:
1. Governance structures. Implementing a robust governance structure, including a board of directors or an advisory board, can provide a system of checks and balances. A diverse leadership team can offer different perspectives and help guide the association towards its goals.
2. Succession planning. Associations should prioritize developing a clear and comprehensive succession plan. This should include identifying potential successors, providing them with opportunities for leadership development, and gradually transferring responsibilities over time.
3. Delegation. Encouraging founders to delegate responsibilities to staff members and volunteers is crucial. This not only empowers others, but also allows the organization to benefit from a broader range of skills and expertise.
4. Mentoring and coaching. Founders can benefit from coaching and mentoring to help them adapt to changing roles and responsibilities. They can learn to trust the abilities of others and embrace new leadership styles.
5. Communication and transparency. Promoting an open and transparent communication within the organization is key to addressing issues related to this syndrome. An open dialogue allows staff members to voice their concerns and provides a platform for problem solving.
It’s important to recognize that not all founders experience the founder’s syndrome, and many successfully adapt to changing roles within their organizations. However, when founder’s syndrome does occur, it can be detrimental to the organization’s growth and sustainability. As associations evolve, so, too, must their leadership models, ensuring a healthy and sustainable future.
Octavio Peralta is currently the executive director of the Global Compact Network Philippines and founder and volunteer CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE), the “association of associations.” The PCAAE will hold its 11th Associations Summit at the PICC on December 20, 2023. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.