Why You Start Fires When There Aren’t Any To Put Out

creative-destructionOver the past couple years, I’ve gotten closer and closer to a cohesive methodology to help my clients that is based around what I’m calling the Entrepreneurial Executive Vision.

I’ve made several executive coaching sessions anonymous as to protect the identity of those I coached on transforming from hustling entrepreneur to executive entrepreneur. This way you can get a glimpse into how to become the leader your company needs.

Tim: Why are you doing these other ventures if they are taking up your time and won’t produce as big of results as working in your core business?

Bob: I’m bored.

Tim: That’s when you know you’re doing your business right. It should be boring. Nothing crazy should be happening and no fires should need to be extinguished when you get to work.

Creative Destruction

Founders are creators and destroyers all wrapped up into one. They have to be to take an idea and make it real. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They require building up concepts to see how the market responds and then tearing them down to build a new concept.

They’ll set fire to the entire business if it is needed to make their idea real. Then they’ll put out those fires to get new systems in place so the idea functions. This creative destruction process plays out to some extent in all startups and is entirely necessary in the early stages of a business. But if the founder doesn’t let go of this creator/destroyer identity, he’ll find new ways to instill chaos into his company so that he feels valuable.

In the early days, the founder feels like a god. He has the power to manifest an idea into reality and destroy it if it doesn’t live up to his vision. This power is exciting. It’s immensely intoxicating.

When the business starts to grow up, less god-like creation and destruction is needed. He starts to interfere with his team, micromanage, or start dozens of new projects so that he can still feel like he’s needed. If there isn’t any chaos, he feels lost. So unconsciously he begins to sabotage his company to give himself something to do.

Identity Drives Behavior

He has an identity called “entrepreneur.” He just can’t see himself as a boring, old manager. Executives are lame; entrepreneurs are awesome.

He needs to mature into a new identity.

The Founder Executive is the next identity in the growth of an entrepreneur. Eventually, the goal is to separate identity from the business all together and become a Founder Owner, but that’s for a future conversation.

Self-identity lags behind reality and if it doesn’t change, the entrepreneur stagnates. It can be seen with entrepreneurs still working more than 10 hours a day, three or more years after starting their company. They are still operating on the startup founder identity, which can be labeled the Founder Craftsman.

Grinding out sixteen hour days materialized their business and brought rapid growth, but then a ceiling is hit and the entrepreneur bangs his head into it over and over trying to shatter it. The company’s growth may have dropped from 30% month-over-month and is now a lousy 17% annual growth rate. And he just can’t understand why the company isn’t growing to his expectations when he is trying what he thinks is everything.

So the Founder Craftsman digs deep into his identity and grinds harder.

Burnout starts to creep into his life in the form of knots in his shoulders, weight gain, sleepless nights and strained personal and business relationships. And with all the martyred pain he goes through the business doesn’t grow. In many cases the growth flattens further and possibly shrink.

The Creative Destroyer Despises Boredom

For those who don’t trend towards burnout — they have plenty of time off from work, they get bored. Bob (not his real name) was starting fires in his business because he needed to feel important and to relive that god-like power of manifesting an idea into reality. He missed the excitement of a startup.

Both the bored and the burnt out have reached their natural capacity in skills and vision. The skills are relatively easy to get once the entrepreneur chooses maturity over stubbornly holding onto his past identity. An executive vision, one that sees the company as a universal whole and not just a collection of crafts and processes, is harder to achieve as it requires a significant shift in identity, belief and maturity.

The lack of maturity, or more accurately the lack of self-awareness, prevents most entrepreneurs from letting go. They become fearful: what if my team does it wrong, what if they lose a big account, what if I don’t know what’s going on and my business collapses. Their heads are filled with many worries about what could happen if they trusted their team, including hiring and trusting a management team, that they clamp down tighter on the business.

Capability and Capacity Lag Behind The Company’s Growth

In the growth stages of a company, the founder needs to keep pace with the maturity of the company. Unfortunately there is an emotional jet lag that lingers. The self-aware entrepreneur will sense this emotional lag and work at maturing into the leader the company needs him to be. The immature entrepreneur will lash out like a child not getting his way and force the company into the identity he is comfortable with.

It should be stressed that all people hit their natural capabilities and capacities. Some hit their limit at under $100,000 in annual revenue while others may not hit theirs until $100 million. Sooner or later, everyone hits their limits — their maturity, ambition, skills, and vision get tested. This testing will occur multiple times in an entrepreneur’s life.

Becoming, growing, and maturing into a Founder Executive is crucial to break through those ceilings.

Bob’s Bored So He Creates Chaos In His Business And Life

This brings us back to Bob.

Bob was stuck between the Founder Craftsman stage and the Founder Manager stage (discussed in a future article). You could almost see him as a team lead and not really a manager. He even spent a good portion of his work creating websites instead of working on a bigger vision or even just managing a team that could ship websites as well as he could.

His team also wasn’t as good at generating leads nor did they have the skills to develop industry partnerships and deals. Bob was keeping all of this to himself. He said it was because his team couldn’t do it as well as him and he could get all this done quickly which gave him a lot of free time.

The Creative Destroyer Finds Any Excuse To Meddle

Sounds reasonable on the surface until you remember that Bob is bored and is sabotaging his company and his personal time with other low-reward/high-risk ventures. He has become attracted to shiny objects that seem like they’ll be easy money with less work and staff (i.e. the Internet lifestyle). The funny thing is his business already can give him an “Internet lifestyle” where he can live, work and play anywhere in the world. He is starting fires in his business so he’ll have something to put out.

Also, if it is so quick and easy for Bob to do the tasks he is doing then why can’t he have someone else do it? It can’t be that difficult for someone else to make websites, write copy and generate leads. Maybe it takes the new person twice as long and it isn’t as good as it could be, but now Bob would have a system that doesn’t rely upon himself. More importantly, he would have the time to work on developing his managerial skills and the foundational knowledge and experience he needs to become an executive.

Releasing One Identity For The One Needed Now

This path is for people who want to stop being a Founder Craftsman and build a company that is bigger than themselves, which is what Bob expressed to me. However, all his actions were tied to his current, smaller identity and it was causing problems in his life and preventing him from growing and maturing. To build what he knows he can create — to express his entrepreneurial dreams fully, Bob has to give up his current identity and transform from the hustler to the executive.

My recommendation was for Bob to spend a few weeks contemplating a much bigger vision for his business and immediately kill off all the side projects — to completely extinguish those fires. Once he has that vision (maybe even before the vision is clear) he needs to hire a project manager and an executive assistant.

These new hires will give him the time and mental space to execute his vision. If done well, he will be hiring a management team that buys into his Entrepreneurial Executive Vision and this small, boring business will hit a high-growth phase and become an exciting powerhouse.

Bob will then be putting out the consequential fires of an executive and not the little fires of a hustler.