3 Founder Personalities That Kill Startups — And What to do About Them
Leverage open feedback and learn how to call them out effectively
Success can mask co-founder problems.
And because everyone is a friend, problematic personalities can go unnoticed… until a problem arises that is.
Watch out for these THREE personalities, and learn how to leverage the perceived weaknesses so everyone is on the same page.
1. THE ADULT BABY
“Maturity doesn’t mean age. It means sensitivity, manners, and knowing how you react.” — Unknown
It’s easier to blame someone else for why your startup isn’t working.
It’s your co-founders. The lack of capital. The market.
The problem with the Adult Baby is that he or she continually looks outside of him or herself for why their startup is failing. Usually they suffer from:
- A lack of self-awareness
- Unable to manage their reactions to situations or emotions
- They’re anxious, insecure, and prone to quick decision-making
- A “my way or the highway” mentality
The Adult Baby will vehemently refuse he or she is one, which is a clue, because if they were able to do this that would mean taking responsibility for their actions and how it is impacting others.
To save your startup from the the Adult Baby, focus on the benefits the person is bringing to the table and call out the negatives simultaneously:
“Whenever you’re passionate about something, you really bring forward some awesome ideas. But you can also be a really big dick and alienate people by making it seem like your ideas are the only ones that matter, especially during our co-founder meetings.”
Stimulating a founder’s awareness regarding their personality problems, especially for the Adult Baby, can be enough to get their attention to want to change how they show up. Speak hard truth to them.
Pro Tip: the Adult Baby secretly yearns for strong boundaries and knowing what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Hold them accountable, and don’t let them slide.
2. The People Pleaser
“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” — Frank A. Clark
They’re good at what they do, but their preoccupation with people pleasing leaves them unable to voice their concerns or avoid disagreements altogether.
Which is detrimental to a startup’s success.
Overtime, the People Pleaser will become resentful or frustrated, leading to:
- Resignation on their part
- Intentional sabotage to regain a feeling of control
- Disempowerment and an inability to bring up issues
- A false perception of reality that creates stories in their head about the founder dynamic and/or their startup
A woo-is-me attitude makes it hard to get this person to trust. But that’s exactly what you need to do with them.
To save your startup from the People Pleasure, clear the air and help him or her see firsthand that it’s safe to talk about intense subjects openly, especially as it pertains to their position/role in the company.
“Hey, your ability to get along with anyone regardless of background is such a strong strength of yours. But I also recognize that that means you don’t tell us if something bothers you because you want everyone to like you. Let’s take some time to hash this out. We want you to bring forward your ideas.
Whether the topic is about money, who makes what decision, role clarity, business strategy, or giving feedback, the People Pleaser simply needs an opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions openly.
And feel heard while doing it.
Pro tip: if you’re a People Pleaser, don’t let the “small stuff” slide. The small things have a way of building up, which later causes resentments to build into full-fledged annoyances.
3. The Power Grabber
“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” — Plato
The Power Grabber uses the power of his role (whether CEO, CTO, CMO, etc.) to maintain and exert control.
Whether over his co-founder, on teams, or in the startup at large, the top-down, control-and-command source of authority creates anxiety and frustration with the Power Grabber.
Because people don’t feel like they can voice themselves, have to prop up the Power Grabber’s ego, or a combination of the two, a bigger problem arises when the Power Grabber starts to resort to the following to get his way:
- Unilateral decision-making
- Back-channel negotiations
- Secrecy, or
To save your startup from the the Power Grabber, reality check the person by showing how their behaviors are creating unnecessary competition or secrecy between the founder team:
“Whenever you engage in secret, back-channel negotiations, you create unnecessary competition between the founders. Aren’t we suppose to be in this all together? I don’t appreciate being ganged up on, especially when it’s a high-level decision and you and another founder have already come up with a decision without my input.”
Showing the Power Grabber the foolishness of his or her ways will open him or her up to want to share that power responsibility.
Naming the pattern of behavior without judgment will be key, and you may even need to resort to an ultimatum to get them to know you’re serious.
Pro Tip: watch out for self-aggrandizement from the Power Grabber. He or she will say that without him or her, and how they “control” things, things wouldn’t get done. But sharing control and showing how a collaborative method of doing things will benefit the startup is key.
Bottom line: These three personalities can cause havoc for startups, especially when the founder team is unable to resolve issues between them in an open and collaborative way. Draw awareness to the behaviors. And call them out accordingly so personality clashes don’t result in a failed venture.