Heroics don't scale - Mark MacLeod

June 8, 2021 - Mark MacLeod

Heroics don’t scale

The founder myth is well understood and, in fact, glorified. The hero founder, adorned in t-shirt & hoodie, fuelled by coffee and blue screen light, woks day and night. “l will sleep when l die'” is the mantra.

In the beginning, when you have little or nothing in terms of funding or team, these heroics are perhaps needed. This is especially true if you have raised, or intend to raise venture capital. If your opportunity is worthy of VC$ then you will not be the only founder pursuing this vision.

This heroic, superhuman effort to will something into existence and create a product, employment and massive value out of nothing is truly worthy of celebration.

But…

There are two aspects of these heroics that don’t scale as your company grows. As you transition from “founder” to “CEO”, you will have to unlearn these habits that have previously served you well.

The first is work ethic. No one else has the drive or incentives of a founder. You can’t expect this from your team. In addition, startups are marathons, not sprints. They take much longer from start to finish than most people realize.

So, while an initial, heroic push is a great thing, you will soon have to dial back into a more sustainable pace.

The other element of heroics that doesn’t scale relates to problem-solving. No one else in your company will have the 360 knowledge + context that you do. Thus, it can be tempting for founder CEOs to don their super hero cape and swoop in to solve every problem.

This creates a culture of dependence. While it might make you feel good and useful, it doesn’t scale. It also weakens your senior leadership team.

From heroics to systems

As your company scales, you change altitudes: you go from working IN the business (building product, selling, etc.) to working ON the business: making sure you have the right people, and pointing them in the right direction. You move from individual heroics to succeeding through others.

If you build the strongest senior leadership team that your scale and funding allow, they will build strong teams underneath them. Charge those strong teams with creating documented, repeatable playbooks for their functions. In addition, empower them to find solutions to the problems they face.

This combination of great people creating and following documented repeatable processes results in a truly scalable system for leading your company.

Questions to consider:

In what ways do I still operate like I did at the beginning? What habits or practices are no longer serving me or no longer appropriate for our scale?

What am I doing myself that really could be done by others in my team?

How do I feel when I wake up? Am I energized or drained? If not energized, what changes do I need to make in order to find more energy?

Are the decisions I am called upon to make appropriate for me to make or should they be made by my team?

Have we broken down our business into documented playbooks for each of our core functions?

Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash

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