It’s well known that founders are at risk for anxiety and depression. An aspect of entrepreneurship that’s rarely addressed is ‘loneliness.’ The ‘loneliness’ that founders describe is not about living alone or being physically isolated. My clients’ loneliness is more about having to keep doubts and failures secret because they are not living with or surrounded by other self-starter types who “get it.”
A lack of trust, a fear of rocking the boat, losing support or weakening morale combine to create a form of loneliness unique to entrepreneurship.
Here are excerpts from a letter sent by a COREageous subscriber, a founder of a travel design company whose description of ‘founder loneliness’ speaks for many of my clients. He asked for ways to manage the loneliness he experiences much of the time:
…The fact is that I really can’t share my frustrations with anyone inside the company. I have to be so careful what I say to someone, even my co-founder, because somehow that information gets distorted and passed to everyone in the company as it only creates an endless cycle of damage control…
I feel like I lead this double life: my startup and my marriage. I can’t let the two cross paths, meaning I can’t unload on her (every night).
I’d like to share my concerns with my board, but I’m afraid they might lose faith in me, or second guess the project if I do…
My free time and money is limited. How can I deal with this loneliness and keep moving forward?
Here are 7 ways to help busy and cash-strapped entrepreneurs beat loneliness:
1.Reach out anonymously to other entrepreneurs online. You are not alone.
2. Find camaraderie outside of your startup playing on a team, joining a church group or a teaming up on a community project that lifts you up.
3. Share your thoughts with a non-dependent family member you can trust 100%.
4. Find an entrepreneur coach or a mentor. Just an occasional venting and problem-solving session can do wonders.
5.Watch videos and listen to podcasts of entrepreneurs you aspire to − preferably those who had a lot of hard knocks along the way.
6. Journal your concerns and frustrations. Writing them down gets them out of your head, clarifies your thoughts and leads to creative solutions and next steps.
7. Don’t give up.
Feeling anxious, depressed and lonely as a founder? CoreCoaching may be the outlet you need to share concerns and brainstorm solutions. Contact me at [email protected]
I’m coaching a founder (I’ll refer to her as Pam) who is on the fence. Pam hired an able team of designers and artists to create “thinking games” for children. But, she is toying with the idea of managing her business by blending in and serving her team versus leading them in the traditional sense. Pam wants to provide “Servant Leadership,” a popular 21st century management model. In this model the founder assigns roles and tasks to subordinates, and then offers support, such as researching, stocking supplies and running their errands. Mmm…sounds like she wants her subordinates to run the show? Pam is seeking coaching because investors are getting antsy. Abiding by the servant model, she’s having a hard time motivating her team to move forward and meet crucial deadlines. Her startup is in stuck mode and here’s why:
When a founder is taken up with ground level activities, the role of the leader is diminished. A founder needs to have some level of detachment from his subordinates to pursue opportunities for the business, brainstorm ideas and make the tough decisions. This bit of healthy distance from employees allows the founder to articulate the vision and provide direction to employees.
When employees see their founder catering to their needs in an extreme manner, they are less likely to view him or her as an authoritative figure. If problems arise and the servant manager needs to switch to a more authoritative leadership role, entitled employees have a hard time meeting the new expectations independently.
Servant leadership de-motivates employees. It’s is like a parent bailing out his child by constantly stepping into to fix things or to do the homework for the child. When employees think their founder will unconditionally and non-judgmentally resolve issues that arise, it’s easy to take it easy and let quality and performance slip.
A happy ending: After several months of a frustrating, but well-meaning stint of Servant Leadership, I encouraged Pam to take a vote and see how her team wanted her to lead. Not surprising, they voted to have Pam resume her role as leader. They voted to exchange the freedom and nurturing for increased productivity and direction that would give them a sense of fulfillment at the end of a week. Most of them missed the “good stress” associated meeting a deadline and taking responsibility. Her team declared that returning to “real leadership” was better for them and for the future of the company.
Need help leading in a way that maximizes cooperation and teamwork without becoming a servant to your team? Contact me at [email protected]
Q: I’m an intrapreneur in my company. I come up with and execute revenue-producing ideas with little risk to me personally. But when a great idea goes bust, I have a hard time shirking it and moving on. I think this tendency will come to bite me when I’m my own boss someday. Transitioning is hard, what to do? Dan R. Toronto, Canada
“Transitioning” has a broad definition. For those who have the gift of hyperfocus, breaking away from one activity to move on to something else is challenging. You know you need to stop, but you need a team of wild horses to drag you to the next activity. Others need lots of time to stop thinking about one task so as to start thinking about the next task. For example, you may find yourself in a meeting with your accountant, and as he points out the numbers, your “guy in the basement” (see blog from 5-8-18) is still stuck on the design of your packaging.
Dan’s transitioning concern is about moving on emotionally from a failed project to a new idea. Even though he experienced no personal financial loss, the time spent grieving, blaming and shaming wastes time and energy. Lots of hands go up when you ask founders if they know what Dan is going through. One solution is to step back and examine the situation like a scientist peering into a microscope − what went wrong and how you can avoid these mistakes the next time around. Common missteps to avoid in your next project include:
- communication failures between persons and departments
- no “walk through” period to identify weaknesses or ambiguities in the process
- identifying persons key to the success of the project who were not suited or not in favor of the project from the start– the stealthy saboteurs
- a lack of oversight during the rollout; poor monitoring the money, service quality and customer feedback.
Swallow that “jagged little pill” and take responsibility for the failure. Even though others may have contributed to the project’s demise, release your grudges. These persons know who they are, what they did and realize they have let you down. You have learned something new about the people you work with. Be professional and remain cordial. Note that especially in small companies, you may need these folks again in the next project. Perhaps, next time, they’ll step up to the plate.
Emotional self-regulation is a core executive function that every self-starter needs to master. Learn about effective, non-medication ways to manage your emotions and make transitions easier. Contact me at [email protected]
Bill H., a founder of a nutrition startup, asks, “How can I get more comfortable speaking in front of groups, investors mostly? I have my top sales guy do all the talking, but apparently it’s starting to look odd that I don’t “share the stage” with him at these presentations. If I lost him, I’d be in big trouble. What to do?”
This is a common concern for many founders wanting to project strong leadership. I define public speaking as any kind of speaking you do with the public: phone calls, 1:1 or small group conversations. Chances are you could not have gotten this far if you had trouble on the phone or in small group conversation. Keep in mind — listeners really care about the substance of what you have to offer, not how slick a presenter you are. They want to make money, period. It’s true that investors like to work with confident and energetic people, but that is secondary to their main interest.
To take action, I suggest you identify where your discomfort in public speaking breaks down and work to refine that level. This is where a communication coach comes in handy. Are you generally anxious, unprepared, unsure of your content, a poor listener, vocally weak or disfluent, etc. at the small group conversation level? If so, getting some guidance managing those aspects would be a good starting point. Then, consider polishing up one segment of the larger group presentation that you are most comfortable with. This way you can start “sharing the stage” with your sales guy in a small way. With practice and an understanding of what your audience really cares about, you’ll be able to take over more of the presentation in time.
Need more help with public speaking or presentation skills? I’m happy to help you. Contact me at [email protected]
If money drives you, think about placing a dollar amount on your day equal to the effort and efficiency you put forth. This is one of my clients’ favorite strategies for enhancing productivity and assessing their performance at day’s end.
For example, imagine a day where you put forth your 100% personal best. What dollar amount might you tag to a day like that? $1000, $5000, $10,000? Let’s say $5000. A $5000 day assumes that every task on your list gets done, done well and delivered. The next step is to assign, according to the time needed per task, complexity and priority, a dollar amount where the maximum total for the day = $5000. For example:
- refining a clear description of your business model = $500
- making 5 cold calls to prospects = $1000
- clearing your desk and planning your schedule for the next day = $1000
- sending out the three proposals you’ve been putting off = $2500
Therefore, accomplishing all these tasks would earn you your max for the day ($5000). Consider attaching greater dollar amounts to the most undesirable, but essential tasks on your list.
At day’s end ask yourself : What did I pay myself today? What did I earn? $500, $2000? $4500? Where did I jip myself and how can make more tomorrow? You can also use a self-rating scale from 1 (total slacking) to 10 (personal best) and resolve the next day to beat the previous day’s rating. If you easily made your quota, perhaps your allotments per task are too generous, or you can fit more into your day and pay yourself more.
Let me know how this works for you! Need help being productive in not so ordinary ways? Contact me at [email protected]