Founder Defocus

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “founder attention” or “founder focus” thrown around. Maybe you’re even using it yourself. However, this is often a short-term thing that misses out on longer-term gains. Let’s debug it. First, with a definition:

Founder Focus (noun): The deliberate and strategic emphasis placed by a company’s founder(s) on certain areas or aspects of the business with the intent to optimize, develop, or transform them. I realized the Product org really needed some founder focus.

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The Immediate Fix

Now, I won’t pretend this is always the wrong thing to do. Sometimes, you have to pull up your sleeves and fix something. There are cases where the short-term solution is the right one because you need something done yesterday. Perhaps you have genuine expertise in this area, and thus, your involvement can speed things along substantially. We’re not dogmatic and, therefore, always consider each case specifically.

Nevertheless, the problem is when this turns into a pattern that we can recognize. Some cofounders switch focus every 6-12 months to help the company grow (e.g., spinning up a new department or product line before bringing in leaders to take over). That’s probably fine. Consider a similar yet much more problematic scenario where a cofounder switches focus every few quarters because of the realization that something is underperforming and needs to be fixed.

When that happens, capable founders often succeed in making things better and improving the situation. However, this is the hero coder syndrome on steroids. As always, consider whether the apparent success is genuine.

Fixing The Fixer

Working with founders to help them get themselves and their organization to the next level, we often have to tackle these modes of operation that have become ingrained. After all, the saviors like saving, and those saved get used to it. However, sometimes, it’s time to learn to do things differently.

If you’re used to swooping in to take control when things go wrong, let’s do root cause analysis instead. The question is not how to fix things rapidly but why this pattern keeps repeating itself. Are you not communicating what needs to be done clearly enough? Hiring the wrong people? Not coaching properly?

Instead of constantly having to give your founder attention to things and seeing them stop operating the second you move on to something else—like the Eye of Sauron—perhaps aim to have your attention spent on creating a solid organization in the first place. That’s founder 3D chess, and it’s also much more satisfying. If you need help doing that, holler.