Many founders see themselves as visionaries. They hold their ambition for the future they will create and are strongly driven to bring it into reality. They see their energy and drive as core to the creation of a new business.
But I'm wondering if self-awareness and competence do more to sustain high performance over time.
That need for self-awareness is obvious when trying to build a team or company.
Every scaling business needs to have some parameters that describe how they want people in the emerging organisation to show up. That might manifests as statements around values, culture or behaviours.
Yet often I see a divergence between the future that founders want for their business, as articulated in such statements, and the reality that is emerging.
There's an insidious creeping dysfunction. It grows as the misalignment widens between what founders preach and what's actually going on day-to-day.
Founder actions speak louder than words. And teams notice dissonance.
Yet the "cult of the founder" remains a strong theme in start-up land.
The high profile unpacking of Theranos, WeWork and FTX has reinforced once again that much “cult of the founder” thinking contains more smoke than fire.
Hero founders don't reliably create healthy cultures.
Culture emerges from an interplay of forces, not a single brilliant yet uncompromising leader.
And dysfunction often stems from lack of congruence through decisions, skills, and systems rather than any single point failure.
Incongruence exhausts people and erodes standards over time.
The unsung work of achieving congruence comes through coaching, role modelling daily behaviours, aligning teams to objectives, and embedding best practices into norms.
Culture flows from an endless stream of small signals, not just big speeches and personality quirks.
There is no shortcut around earning trust and credibility through actions.
And finding that congruence consistently requires founders to develop their self-awareness skills.
Do their words match actions that are happening, both at the individual and organisational levels?
Do they walk the talk with humility, surrounding themselves with voices of reason?
Do team talents and incentives in their growing business fit the playbook, reinforcing the desired future for the business through genuinely shared beliefs?
Maybe when building businesses, specific tactics and leadership styles matter less than achieving this congruence between founder actions and words.