Founder Flounder – Part 1 – The Opportunist in Visionary’s Clothing

Know any “one trick pony” founder who aren’t visionaries but just can’t let go of being seen as one?

“First you get on, then you get honest, then you get honors” – Lew Wasserman

(and if you can’t stay on, you never get to the last two)

Being cast as a visionary is a drug and when it turns out you are mainly an opportunist or worse, a one trick pony, the paranoia about being exposed can make you murderous to your people (who are not to blame) and suspect to second or third round investors when they discover they’ve been had and you really don’t have the right stuff.


Seven ways to recognize an opportunist in visionary’s clothing:

  1. Reality Distortion Field* – Steve Jobs got away convincing himself and others of something that wasn’t true in the present later in his life because he delivered the products that backed him up. By the way, it wasn’t that way before the ipod and itunes.
  2. “Next great idea!” addiction – Will switch directions every month or more frequently when the “next great idea” doesn’t deliver, produce or sustain “Wow!” in customers or trust and confidence and more money from investors.
  3. Delegate Poorly – They are much clearer in their heads than what they truly communicate and treat their people as stupid or lazy when in fact they have not been clear in their communication and people are afraid to push back.
  4. Intimidate their people – They can’t and won’t take “No” for an answer which is usually caused by a “kick the dog” reaction when the investors they want respect and more importantly money from, begin to question their being a good investment or even credible.
  5. Unmanageable and Incorrigible – After being told that their company needs professional management or a CEO so the founder can be the company’s chief evangelist and rainmaker, a series of people are brought in who can’t manage the unruly and erratic behavior by the founder.
  6. “Your agenda is showing” – Often founders start a company out of love for its mission and what it could be and then get seduced by all the toys that money can buy and then need to sustain it akin to the “Goldman’s Handcuffs.” As a result their creating a product or service that is driven 80%+ by delighting and serving the customer or client becomes corrupted into ROI on everything. True investors may be the driving force to get something back quickly for their shareholder, but the Founder doesn’t have to buy into that hook, line and sinker.
  7. “Would rather be King than Rich” – There are good and bad to each of these. It’s good to be King if you’re Steve Jobs and have your finger on your customer’s future in terms of what will delight them out of their lives of quiet desperation, be dependable compared to mediocre quality products, be something they can wax poetically and enthusiastically to others about instead of waning and complaining about something that sucks. It’s bad to be a King who is on purely an ego and power trip rather than a quality or any other trip that focuses on anyone else. It’s also good to want to be rich by both maximizing the value and ROI of how you run your company instead of it seeming like the Keystone Cops without the fun. It’s bad to be so focused on ROI that quality doesn’t even come second, it comes as doing the least costly thing that won’t tick off your customer or client so much that they leave.

* BTW, as Founder, you don’t have to be a “serial” visionary. IDEO is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. They know that it’s not what you as the visionary see that’s important as going out and plumbing all that is already out there and then drilling down to distill what could be that would delight, satisfy and cause all your customers and clients to tell everyone they know after you build it. To read one of the best books on how to send out your best, brightest and most curious “first class noticers” (to quote Saul Bellow) to find the visions already in life and that are there for the asking, check out: The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.


About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit