The Myth of the Founder

Many of us are obsessed with business founders. Specifically, what sets them apart from the rest of us? Is drive, vision, or a special insight that helps them change entire industries seemingly over night and seem to pull millions and even billions of dollars in profit from thin air? Or is it simpler, is it how they run meetings or make decisions? Is it because the take cold showers, are vegan and meditate under the full moon?

Founders fill a usual space in our culture where in they are guru, eccentric, celebrity and sometimes even comic book villain.

And why should they not? Jeff Bezos completely changed how we shop and how the internet works. Similarly, Mark Zuckerburg changed the way we communicate forever and now sways public discourse. Meanwhile Elon Musk can skyrocket the currency of a meme with a single tweet all while being in a literal space race with Jeff Bezos.

So of course, if you could become one of them, wouldn’t we? Or at the least figure out who the next one will be and invest.

These are the reasons the myths about founders are so powerful. Their stories become a filter for who gets investment capital to start companies and someone we can model ourselves after to replicate their success.

The Paradox of Humility

While humility is often venerated as a key quality of leadership it seems it is rarely found in real life leaders. We agree as a society that we value this quality in a leader but when we look at many famous and everyday leaders–those chosen in the workplace, in other organizations, in politics who we favor don’t seem to represent what we claim to value.

Many writers on the topic of leadership have demonstrated time and again through examples that humility is at the backbone of the most successful leaders and companies right along with persistence. Yet these are the exceptional; the exception.

Evidence also demonstrates the when it comes to being promoted to leadership roles, climbing an origination’s ladder and winning political election one has a much better chance when they are not humble.

It seems we tend to elect leaders based on their confidence, assertiveness ability to be ignorant of their limitations. This is why the incompetent are overwhelmingly represented in leadership roles. The recipe of victory seems to be overconfidence, hiding limitations, don’t worry about people’s opinions and to lean in even harder when one’s talents can’t back up what they promise.

Part of the problem then is what we value in a leader—the market will provide what we value most.

Practicing Being Deliberate

When practicing being deliberate, we have to break down an area of expertise into a series of smaller, achievable practices. We must engage in structured activities that improve performance in a specific area. The goal of being deliberate is not just to reach your potential but to build it. To make things possible that were not possible before. It will take a long time. It will be hard. It is supposed to be difficult. If being an expert was easy, everyone would be one.

But how we keep going in the face of difficulty? That is perhaps the biggest question we can ask when practicing being deliberate. Anyone can get started, that is the easy part. The popularity of self-help books and guides to success is evidence of this. The many gym memberships abandoned by February is evidence of this.

When we decide to learn a new language, learn to play an instrument we run out and buy things and jump right in. There is an exciting energy to engaging in a new adventure. But then reality hits; we hit that wall. We don’t find time to practice. We don’t improve as fast as we thought we would. It stops being fun and we view it as a chore. Eventually we give up altogether.

Why? Frankly, its hard work.

Being deliberate and breaking down your goal into attainable pieces is a way to pace oneself. We shouldn’t tell ourselves we will become Jimi Hendrix by the end of the year. We should tell ourselves we will learn to play a simple song in two months. We will learn the scales in six months. We will learn correct finger positions by the end of the first month.

We should give ourselves goals we can reach.

 

Always Two Opportunities

In all aspects of our lives there are always two sets of opportunities in front of us—one set governs where we are, a current job, a current relationship, a current volunteer activity, a current hobby and then there are those things only available if we actively seek them.

Whatever those new things are that we seek, if we find them and develop them we become more versatile. It could be that what we have currently (a job, relationship, volunteerism, hobby) provides us with the tools to become more versatile. Sometimes we need to actively find new things to learn, new skills to develop, new networks to tap into.

If we only remain qualified to maintain our current job, relationship, volunteer activity or hobby we are vulnerable to or unprepared for change.

Every day we should set out two lists of tasks for ourselves: one to maintain that which we already have and one that will allow us to expand the boundaries of our experience and knowledge.

It doesn’t matter who you are—an entrepreneur who created your own job, an employee, a community organization leader or member, a high school or college student, a retiree, or a stay at home parent—you have the capability, this very moment, to prepare for what comes next.

Turn Your Organization Into a Team

We often refer to groups, organizations etc as our “team”, but are they really a team? Teams need dedication and training. Here are some ideas to focus on when turning your group of peers into a functioning team.

Train, study and train, prepare, and train thoroughly, endlessly.

Strive to maintain individual stability and unit integrity; keep the same leader as long as possible if they’re getting the job done. Needless changes disrupt teamwork.

Emphasize use of the “buddy” system.

Never publicly blame an individual for the team’s failure nor praise one individual for the team’s success.

Provide the best available facilities for training and make maximum use of teamwork.

Ensure that all training is meaningful, and that its purpose is clear to all members of the staff.

Acquaint each individual of your staff with the capabilities and limitations of others, thereby developing mutual trust and understanding.

Base team training on realistic, current, and probable conditions.

Insist that everyone understands the functions of the other members of the team and how the team functions as a part of the whole.

12 Habits to Incorporate into Your Leadership Practice

1. Courage
People like to know the one they are following is courageous.

2. Effective Communication
You need to be a great communicator to effectively manage and inspire people who work for you.

3. Generosity
Great leaders share credit and praise where it is due. They are committed to their followers’ success.

4. Humility
Leaders who show humbleness will jump in and do the dirty work.

5. Self-Awareness
This is the foundation of emotional intelligence. They have a clear and accurate image of their own strengths and weaknesses.

6. Adherence to the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule says to treat others the way you want to be treated.

7. Passion
Passion is contagious. If a leader is enthusiastic, others will be as well.

8. Infectiousness
Not only have a clear vision but a plan to make that vision become a reality.

9. Authenticity
Be honest in everything. Make sure your words and actions align with who you claim to be.

10. Approachability
Welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than your own.

11. Accountability
Back up your followers. Don’t shift blame when facing failure.

12. Sense of Purpose
Understand your purpose and why you’re going there.