6 Things You Need to Know About Working With a Founder

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I’ve worked with a multi-passionate entrepreneur for over twelve years. I have some (albeit limited) experience working for leaders in more traditional settings (a diligent and determined non-profit Executive and the leader in the bureaucratic environment of secondary education). Suffice it to say, I knew those weren’t the environments for me long-term, but I didn’t yet know what I was looking for at 25 years old. That is… until, I started working with a Founder. It opened me up to a whole new way of working, challenged my thinking and skills on a daily basis, helped me grow as a leader, and gave me the hands-on knowledge of how to build, run, and grow organizations (hint: it’s all about the people!).

But, working for a Founder isn’t all fun and games. It can include extremely long days (and years), organized chaos (but only if you organize it), occasional whiplash due to fast growth, differences of opinions, egos, growing pains, capital constraints, an unclear goal or vision, and a lack of resources. And, I wouldn’t trade it for a more traditional environment or leader any day! I love working with a multi-passionate entrepreneur and Founder. It is absolutely the right environment for me.

Maybe it’s the right one for you too; though, it’s definitely not for everyone. Personally, I think the business knowledge and personal and professional growth alone far outweigh any of the challenges along the way. But, that’s a decision you will have to make for yourself.

Disclaimer: I know that not all Founders operate the same way! However, I believe that the items below are pretty universal with Founders.

Here’s what you need to know about working with a Founder:

1. They have an intensely clear vision that often no one else can see (yet).

They know where they are going, even if they haven’t clearly communicated it yet or still have no idea how to get there. They just know that they will. To them, the end result is crystal clear. The how is more nebulous. And they are totally fine with that. While that may be frustrating for Force Multipliers, that’s actually where we can to shine! It’s our job to take that hazy vision and help create action plans, teams, and get all the things into place to bring that idea to life.

2. They don’t have all the answers.

If you are expecting your Founder to have all the answers, know how to set up departments, understand supply-chain logistics, know how to fire someone, or know how to get an investor to say “yes” every time – think again. In many ways, your Founder will be incredibly clear and decisive, and in others ways, you’ll be in the trenches, figuring it out together. That’s what’s so fun and challenging about a start-up and being a Force Multiplier to a Founder! Well… some people think it’s fun anyway. For others, it’s their version of hell. Choose wisely.

3. The business comes first.

No matter how great of a relationship you have with your Founder, or no matter how empathetic and emotionally intelligent they are with their team members, the business will always come first. And, I suggest you adopt that attitude as well. It actually levels the playing field in a lot of ways (if you have discussed and agreed up on the rules of engagement). If you and your Founder are both committed to what is best for the business, then conversations become less emotional, you more readily put all ideas on the line, and ultimately make decisions that are best for the business, not any one individual. You, the employee, just have to be okay with that.

4. The lines between business and personal are blurry.

Founders live, eat, sleep, drink, think, and dream about their business. They take their work home and they take their personal lives to work. They may exercise in their office between calls and take calls between dinner and bath time at home. There is no clocking in or clocking out in a Founder’s world. Their right hand partner needs to understand and accept this world of work-life integration. That also means you, the Force Multiplier, may find yourself helping your Founder move into their new home, plan a 10th anniversary trip for their partner, meeting with a Realtor to negotiate lease terms on office space, or helping prepare a pitch deck for an investor meeting. It’s all in a days work for a Force Multiplier to a Founder.

5. Trust and loyalty are earned.

Trust and loyalty are a two way street and it’s built brick by brick over time. Every time you do what you say you’re going to do (and even go above and beyond), your Founder will have more trust in you. And vice versa. When your Founder says something and then follows through, trust is built. When you have each other’s backs in tough situations, when you take the fall for a mistake your Founder made, or when your Founder shoulders the full responsibility of missed communication, even more trust and loyalty are built. But it’s not going to just be given out, it has to be earned. And there is nothing wrong with that. Earn it. For ways to fast-track building trust, click here.

6. You have to be able to run alongside them, and better yet, be one step ahead.

Founders are not going to slow down to make sure you can keep up. They are running down the street while they are putting their shoes on. And they aren’t going to ask you to run with them. You either show up with your sneakers on, or you will be left behind. If you need to learn a new software or update yourself on the latest legislation affecting your industry, you’ll have to figure that out while you’re managing three new projects and rescheduling your Founder’s entire month. Better yet, you need to be one step ahead, anticipating their every move and making sure they have what they need every step of the way. Tall order? Sure is. But that’s what working for a Founder requires.

Founders, I would love to hear from you! What other things do you wish Executive Assistants, Chiefs of Staff, and other team members knew about working with you? Force Multipliers, what have you learned about Founders by working with them?

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