The 5 Habits Bad Founders Never Break
People who don't understand the basics of how people get along will never lead a successful team.
Young companies are only as good as the people who run them. For businesses with strong founders, that’s great news -- for others, not so much.
A bad founder doesn’t have to remain bad forever, though. Many of the skills required to run a company only come through experience. Whether that experience goes to waste or helps a founder grow into a better leader depends on how the founder responds to negative situations.
Check out the following list of habits that bad founders never break:
1. They can’t get along with their co-founders.
Professional disagreement can be constructive; toxicity never is. Khalid Halim, an entrepreneur and startup coach, regularly deals with co-founder teams incapable of getting along. Halim believes that founders must be able to give each other constructive criticism.
“The relationship will break,” he said in a post for Medium. “They will be left wondering how you could sit there and watch them fail and not say anything. By being really nice, things go really, really wrong, and then we wonder what happened. That is what the absence of conflict looks like.”
Learn how to give (and receive) feedback without taking it personally. You and your co-founders all want the business to succeed. Provide constructive criticism in positive contexts, and listen to feedback -- not in how it reflects on you, but in your role at the company. Your founding team is full of people with diverse talents. The more you help each other grow, the better your chances of success.
2. They can’t pull the trigger.
Some part of your product could always be better. Maybe it the design could be sleeker; maybe it has more bugs than you’d like. Maybe it isn’t even as effective as it could be. Whatever the reason, at some point, you must decide whether to kill the project or release it to the world.
Bad founders spend too much time waiting to launch. While they live in constant fear that their product isn’t good enough, other companies beat them to market. Eventually, their hesitation costs them, and their companies sputter out before they gain a foothold.
Never launch a product you know is going to fail -- that leads to poor sales and a reputation hit -- but do maintain a sense of urgency. If you know the product-market fit is good and you have the cash to make it happen, be aggressive in the development and deployment of your solution.
3. They don’t respect their employees.
Founders everywhere should take note of the problems at Uber and other startup heavyweights. Harassment scandals and miserable cultures do not appear overnight. Rather, they arise as a natural consequence of environments in which people (especially at the top) do not know how to respect each other.
You don’t need stricter rules about eye contact to prevent lawsuits at your company. You simply need to set an example of respect in your behavior -- and to get rid of people who don’t understand what "respect" means.
Treat your employees as if they held your future in your hands -- because they do. Communicate clearly that breaches of respect will not be tolerated, and follow through on that promise when someone refuses to play nice. When your employees feel safe at work, they spend less time worrying about their personal space and more time pushing your company forward.
Related: Respect: The Cornerstone of Success
4. They forget the details.
Not many founders have deep backgrounds in accounting, law, marketing, insurance and human resources. Bad founders try to do it all themselves, which inevitably leads to problems ranging from minor annoyances to company-ending disasters.
Don’t play loosely with your company’s finances or legal standing. Consult with people who know better, like accountants and lawyers, or hire people to handle those tasks for you. Different industries have different requirements, so consult with your mentors and colleagues to see what kinds of protections you need to keep in place.
Insurance can be especially tricky. Work with an insurance agent who knows your industry to get coverage for liability on your products and your premises alike.
Related: How to Hire an Accountant
5. They lack organizational skills.
Some founders equate fast, rash decisions with innovation. Those founders rarely lead successful companies for long. When founders start to arrive late to meetings, miss important deadlines and forget important client calls, their companies suffer greatly for their inattention.
Stay organized by keeping and updating your calendar. Your brain can only focus on so much information at once: Externalize your schedule so you never have to worry about whether you have enough time. Make a habit of adding meetings, phone calls and task reviews to your calendar as soon as you commit to them.
If you’re the kind of person with a messy desk and a full voicemail, don’t despair. Organization takes time to develop, and only you know what works best for your business. The important thing is to develop a system that works and stick to it.
No one, even an experienced entrepreneur, starts a company and gets everything right on the first try. The difference between people who succeed and people who don’t is that successful people learn from their mistakes and adapt. Whether you’re a first-time founder or a serial entrepreneur, use these tips to keep improving and guide your company toward sustained success.
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