6 Things Happy Founders Never Do
Some founders seem to be able to handle the ups and downs of running startups easier than others. What’s their secret? In a word: perspective.
Founders who have been around the block know the difference between things that they need to worry about and things they don’t. They also have strategies to manage their own psychology.
If you are still struggling to manage your psychology, see if you are doing any of the following activities that undermine your own happiness. Happy founders may not have everything figured out, but they are more likely to survive the marathon of entrpeneurship.
Happy founders NEVER…
1. Play the Blame Game
When things go wrong, happy founders don’t try to figure out WHO’S fault it was. Instead, they focus on what ACTION to take next. The blame game turns into an endless unproductive cycle where management blames employees and employees blame management. The net result is negative productivity and a group of unhappy and unmotivated employees.
When a ship gets a hole, the captain can either spend his time figuring out who’s fault it was while the ship sinks with everyone on it… or he can turn it into an opportunity for the team to bond over repairing the hole. It can either tear a crew apart or pull them together. The difference is simply a point of view.
Side benefit: without blame, it is hard to hold grudges, which leads us to…
2. Hold Grudges
Unhappy founders often don’t realize that the power of forgiveness isn’t some fru-fru holier-than-thou act. The power of forgiveness is in releasing you from your own negative energy.
Your brain is a garden, and sometimes bad things happen to your garden. For example: a storm might kill a crop or a dog might pee on your prized petunias. You can’t control these events and they are undeserved and never fair. But no matter what, you are still responsible for maintaining, pruning and weeding your garden.
Grudges are weeds. They might remind you of something unfair in life that shouldn’t have happened to you. However, that is an ugly memory that left uncheck can spread and fester. Only you are responsible for letting your garden be overgrown with the weeds of grudges.
So start pruning and forgive people already. Nobody’s perfect.
3. Desperation for Outsider Opinions
Are you constantly chasing press coverage or recognition for your work? Have you become caught up in a pissing war with your main competitor? Chances are you have lost sight that you can’t control others or what they think.
Most founders (myself included) can be control freaks at times, so wanting to control people and get them to validate your work can be tempting. But ultimately it is a fool’s errand and at best you are beholden to luck.
To counter-act this behavior set yourself objective, metrics-driven goals that you can refer back to and check progress on. Send your goals to advisors and close friends and send them weekly updates to keep yourself accountable to your own goals. Only measure things that are ultimately under your control, things like profit and revenue.
4. Surround Themselves with Negative People
As a founder, you are directly or in-directly responsible for hiring pretty much everyone at your company. Look around and take in the collective mood of the people around you. Do they bring you up and make you happy and excited to come into work each day? Or are they downers who complain about anything and everything that happens in life?
You don’t necessarily need to fire everyone to make a change for the better, but maybe it is time to remove the worst offenders and replace them with some fresh blood.
Remember that nobody WANTS to work in a negative environment.
5. Compromise Core Values
What do you believe in? A positive attitude? Integrity? Work hard, play hard? Ingenuity? Honesty?
When’s the last time someone asked you to compromise your core values, either explicitly or implicitly?
This person could be an employee, a friend or spouse, an investor, or even a customer. The worst offenders are very likely the same negative people you have surrounded yourself with.
As a leader, it is your responsibility and obligation to set expectations of core values AND to enforce them. This is a very valuable tool to anyone afraid of confrontation, because telling people they are violating a Core Value is often much easier than telling them they are just wrong about something.
For example, if someone is constantly putting down co-workers, you might talk to them and ask them to stop. They might argue: “but it’s true what I told them.” And you can counter: “whether or not it is true, it violates our Core Value of having a positive attitude and people who can’t abide by our Core Values can’t work here.” This is easier than trying to argue on the merits of how valid the claims are.
6. Be a People Pleaser
Being a people pleaser is one of the fastest paths to unhappiness. The reason is counter-intuitive if you are a people pleaser: the only way to please people all the time is by compromising your core values or lying. When you compromise your core values, you feel unhappy and abused. You often turn yourself into a victim or a martyr, in which your revel in your unhappiness.
Or if you lie, you will get caught eventually. And when you get caught, that will cause you deep unhappiness.
Either way, people pleasing is a direct path to unhappiness not only for you but for the people you are ultimately trying to please.
What did I miss? Tell me in the comments.
About the Author
Lucas Carlson is a hands-on consultant, author and entrepreneur. He helps founders discover opportunities for growth, both for their companies and for themselves. He was the CEO and founder of AppFog, a popular startup acquired in 2013 after signing up over 100,000 developers and raising nearly $10M in venture funding from top angels and VCs.