Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Wish I Coined This Term: "Founder's Syndrome"

If you've read my previous posts, you know that I sometimes coin my own terms, such as "URL Sprawl" and "Frienomenon." A colleague used a term the other day that, as much as I wish I could claim responsibility for, I cannot. Surprisingly enough, I have seen plenty of "Founder's Syndrome," but thought I was alone.

Thank you Carter McNamara for your excellent site, The Free Management Library(SM), and discussion of this term:

Carter's definition is as follows:
"This syndrome occurs when, rather than working toward its overall mission, the organization operates primarily according to the personality of a prominent person in the organization, for example, the founder, board chair/president, chief executive, etc. The syndrome is primarily an organizational problem -- not primarily a problem of the person in the prominent position."

My response: Although the term is not meant to peg the founder as the problem, in my mind, any leader is ultimately responsible for organizational culture and change, as they set the example and the pace and should therefore empower others to act in the interest of the company's mission vs. respond to his/her personal preferences and moods.


Jerel said...

We shouldn't ignore the possibility that individual followers will have different reactions to the same leaders. Howell and Shamir (2005, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 30, pp. 96-112) provided a theorical analysis of the role of follower in charismatic leadership. The authors suggest that followers who have "weak self-concept clarity" are more likely to form personalized relationships with charismatic leaders. People with weak self-concept clarity are those that do not have a clear and consistent self-concept that can guide their behavior. Those employees are more likely to have been disoriented and confused before joining a relationship with the charismatic leader. When they join a relationship with that leader, the relationship gives the follower a clearer sense of self. As a result, the leader-follower relationship is based more on personal identification with the leader than on acceptance of the leader's message.

The authors go on to suggest that followers who form this type of personalized relationship are more prone to "blind faith and unquestioning obedience."

Let's not dismiss entirely the role of the follower in founder's syndrome, either.

Tracy Diziere said...

Excellent post, Jerel! Thank you for bringing to bear academic research to explain what goes on in relation to organizational culture. I think this says a lot about hiring choices, as some charismatic leaders would rather employ "blind faith and unquestioning obedience" vs. innovative thinking and challenging their positions. I guess this circumstance is where I find leadership somewhat culpable as I feel it's better to bring on board those who both identify with you and appreciate you but either have enough clarity of self-concept to avoid contributing to founder's syndrome OR can be helped to cultivate strength in that area with a leader's support. In many ways, for me, it is a question of what the leader's ego requires in hiring and employee growth decisions.

MartinZwilling said...

This article is very useful to me in understanding Founderitis or Founder’s Syndrome in all startups. I wrote my own story on this in titled “A Case of Founder’s Syndrome” outlining a startup failure that I was involved in. I’m working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Marty Zwilling, Founder & CEO, Startup Professionals, Inc.

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