10 Takeaways from Founders’ Coaching Pause (FCP)
This weekend in Bali, I had the privilege to spend 4 days with other entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs at a program called “Founders’ Coaching Pause” (FCP) organized by SEA Founders.
Here’s FCP’s official description: An intensive retreat designed for founders to take a moment to PAUSE and reflect on self-leadership and the leadership of others.
Going into this, I had no idea what to expect and truth be told, slightly skeptical with how this description would translate to actual deliverables for (a) myself (b) my company (c) our future growth strategy. Also, imagine being with a room of tech founders, investors and tech pioneers – intense much? It was very clear to me that it was a corporate agenda that led me there, but truth be told, I got so much more from it.
Here’s my attempt to share my takeaways to put across a summary of how this has impacted me. This is my way of committing to making actual changes from now onwards and to remind myself to review this, at least on a quarterly basis.
1. We sometimes forget about being human
What is it to be human and how are we living our life on earth? As a founder, there’s no stopping us from being obsessed about driving growth and milestones. So much so that we forget about being human. Being human encompasses elements from the inside out – our strengths, our passion and our values. Is there a misalignment between how we act and lead our company with our values? If so, how do I adjust them?
2. Our values might not be our real values
One of the interesting practices we had to do is to note down our values, to prioritize them and then to score how much we felt we practiced these values within our day to day lives – this was an easy one but right after, we were asked, “How much are you willing to give up on our values and for what price?” In reality, values can be values you aspire to have (I.e to be adopted) or can be actual values. If there is a price we can put down to compromise our value, they are highly likely one you aspire to have. Most of the time, we are not aware of this and that’s why we have double standards.
3. Fight, flight or freeze
Founders are mostly fire fighters, problem-solvers and we often land ourselves in crisis mode or anxieties while building the company. This weekend, we touched on a little bit about how science behind all of it i.e. Amygdala Hijack or how our bodies go into. F3 or Fight-Flight-Freeze. Surprisingly, understanding the science behind it allows us to rationalise how some crisis we face are never usually life or death, and how this is just an Amygdala Hijack. And if this is just how the brain works, we know that we can remind ourselves to do two things (a) Having acceptance (b) Being fully aware we are in an Amygdala Hijack.
4. Who are you in tough conversations?
Whether we like it or not, tough conversations are inevitable – whether it’s giving critical feedback to the team or even, having someone fired. When you’re running a startup, flat hierarchies and blurred lines are common – which also means, tough conversations are even more difficult because you probably already have a relationship with this person. There needs to be a mindset shift:
(a) Clarifying your role when you’re having a conversation with another party (especially when you have a relationship outside work)
(b) Consider what the other party might be portraying you as
(c) Figure out key influencers in the organization that would be able to help diffuse tough conversations
For a more in depth look into this, a fellow founder recommended Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
5. Ask questions instead of telling
Scaling a team from 10 to 100 is tough and proper management needs to be put in place for all the different growth levers to work. But the magic answer we need is: How do we empower our employees to make decisions and to become players for us while we focus on more strategic work? – the answer might just be coaching. The importance of coaching in an organization is apparent to its growth. We started practicing different coaching tips amongst each other and these were the takeaways:
(a) The difference with a coach and an advisor is that a coach guides, not tells. A coach helps to reframe perspectives but an advisor usually gives input i.e. shows and tells based on their experience
(b) Coaching should always have an agenda whether it’s an outcome or an action plan
(c) Ask non-leading questions and do not be prescriptive:
a. What methods have you tried?
b. What are you exploring?
(d) The idea is to increase learning and capability as opposed to just productivity
I often feel guilty about being too prescriptive and imposing my ways to doing things. In essence, this is just me “managing” which is often limiting when we’re scaling a company. One needs to “coach” in order to grow.
6. Let go in order to grow the company
Here’s the problem: The company has been growing and it used to be just the two of us – my co-founder and I. We spent the first 2 years building and building and have been so operationally involved that letting go seems impossible. In the Wealth Lighthouse created by Roger Hamilton, that was us being “workers” and ultimately, our goal should be to increase our value as founders (within the Wealth Lighthouse) to achieve growth in the company given that we have a well abled team now.
At first, it all sounded really abstract to me until someone pointed it out to see each stage/colour as a perceived value of us as a founder. What we should be thinking about should be: “What can I spend less on my time on/ let go of for me as founder to be in the next stage of running the company? I need to be less of a “worker” or “player”. I need to let go of being too operational (and to have things my way). And I need to be involved more as a “performer” or “conductor”. Somehow acknowledging this framework helps me to let go of needing to be so operationally involved in everything – to let go in order to encourage growth.
7. Culture is not culture unless it’s living and breathing in the company
While we were growing our team in 2018, Delegate decided to start a culture handbook on our policies and what values we want our team to have. The tricky thing about culture handbooks though, is how to apply this to our company operations.
One of the things that came up during FCP is “Is it moral to lie?”. How many of us have said a white lie to someone to save ourselves from explanations? If we tell a white lie to our team members, are they able to do the same? How would this impact culture? The truth is, every small action we do as founders directly impacts the culture of the company. How should I change to live and breathe these values when managing the company?
8. Frameworks – Turning abstract into reality
I love frameworks but at the same time, hate them. Because frameworks are mostly theory and very much far from reality. During FCP, we had a ton of frameworks which I was able to immediately replicate to Delegate. For the interest of not giving away too much – think business school and growth hacking strategies. Give me more, please!
9. From culture values to our company vision and OKRs
This is hard to admit but I used to think all things in the company are siloed i.e. (a) Cultural Values (b) Vision (c) Goals & OKRs (d) Employee Retention. We’ve touched on these in Delegate but never once did I think it would be all connected.
A framework to think about it should be:
I have my company’s vision and values > I want to hire team members with the same values > I have long term and short term goals for the company > I want my team to operate based on these values to achieve these goals > I want to break down these goals into OKRs
One of our trainers, Donna from Entrepreneurs Institute suggests we have a Personal Compass for everyone in the organization with each individuals’ passions, strengths and values. This Personal Compass will also share more about their roles, and top priorities (aligned to the company’s long-term and short-term goals). It is important to see a sync between the team member’s Personal Compass to the company’s goals – if it’s a misfit, maybe we should consider if that member should be doing what he/she is doing?
10. Vulnerability promotes intimacy, even with Founders
Founders are often judged by their pitch – what they do and what they achieved so far. Being a founder myself, it takes a lot for me to admit my challenges and to discuss weaknesses with others around me. We’re used to having business discussions and networking which in most cases, are transactional. Whether we like to admit it or not, being a founder is a lonely journey. The best takeaway was being able to be in a safe space. We saw each other as peers and did not judge each other by what we do. We discussed our vulnerabilities and challenges. We connected and got to know each other as humans do.
With vulnerability, we had an intimate connection. It’s been mentioned that mental health has been a key issue amongst tech founders due to the high pressure in a high risk, high reward environment. Hopefully with FCP, founders will feel like they have a support system and that they’re not alone.
Truly thankful to FCP organisers, trainers and facilitators for making this happen!