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10 Things Smart Founders Do to Mess Up Their Company

“Everybody here has the ability to do anything I do and much beyond. Some of you will and some of you won’t. For those who won’t, it will be because you get in your own way, not because the world doesn’t allow you.”

- Warren Buffett speaking the University of Washington


Here are 10 things that smart founders do to mess up their companies, careers and lives (hmm.. maybe they’re not so smart):

  1. Avoid confrontation – Sometimes the tougher and stronger founders are, the more afraid they are of confrontation. Superficially it’s because they don’t want to upset other people; but underneath is a fear that the upset person will react or retaliate in some unforeseen way that will trigger a counter-reaction by the leader that will cause him or her to feel and go out of control. BTW they don't have to directly do it, if they empower a COO or HR head by giving them full authority (so that the person they confront doesn't come complaining back to the founder).
  2. Hire advisors, but don’t listen to them – Many founders know they need the input of outside advisors to see directions, strategies, etc. that they are too close to see for themselves and that others within their company cannot see. What underminies this is their unwillingness to then make the recommended changes and instead remain stuck in their prior way of acting.
  3. Don’t accept when they’re wrong – One of the reasons founders have trouble admitting they’re wrong is a fear that it will mushroom and reveal that they might be wrong in many additional areas. In other words some founders are excellent as several things, but incompetent in many other areas necessary to the success of their business. It is very difficult for people to face the many areas they are deficient in. Beyond the feeling of facing their inadequacies is then having to be dependent on and trusting those people filling those deficiencies.  And many founders by nature are more controlling than they are trusting.
  4. Avoid dealing with reality – This overlaps with number 3 above where acknowledging and accepting reality will reveal too many things that need to be addressed which founders fear will overwhelm and incapacitate them.
  5. Wait too long to cut their losses – Founders  who have put much time, money and effort into a losing venture have trouble accepting that they’re not going to get anything back for everything they put out. This is similar to the example of continuing to fix a lemon car hoping to recoup all the money you’ve put into it.
  6. Don't wait long enough to let any strategy succeed - On the other hand some founders will jump from one flavor of the month to the next causing their people to stop executing when they figure the wind will change at any moment.
  7. Focus too much on analysis over execution – There needs to be a balance between perfection and reality otherwise the founder can fall prey to Perfectionism becoming Procrastination becoming Paralysis.
  8. Trusting too much in one's gut with too little analysis – One’s gut feelings are too often something that feel so intuitively correct that founders  will distort facts so as to verify what they want to believe.
  9. Favoritism – Making certain people feel more important (for no merit based reason) than others can insidiously poison a culture and cause non-favored people to respond with non-productive behavior. It lessens people’s respect for the leader who appears to have been successfully brown nosed and manipulated by the highly political people they have favored.
  10. Minimize the importance of what they don’t understand – The less important you can convince yourself something is, the less you have to address it. The problem is that many of those “unimportant” things turn out in the long run to be important, if not critical.

Also: 10 Signs Your Founder Sucks at Succession

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