Much like our second step (Communicate), this third step should drive home that now is not the time for isolation (no matter how much you [very rightly] are socially distant).
During times of crisis, founders have a tendency to pull away from everyone around them. It’s common, and it’s a big mistake. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s easy to become myopic and feel you’re alone in your challenges. While the fallacy in that is obvious, our brains can move quickly from, “I’m the only person going through this,” to, “this is my failure,” to finally, “I’m the only one who can come up with a solution.”
Joseph feels very strongly about this last phrase. Here, let me quote… ahem… “anyone who says any version of ‘I’m the only person who can do this’ is a raging fucking narcissist who we hate and who everyone else probably does too.” Given how infrequently Joseph swears when coaching, you should take that one to heart.
The idea that anyone can do anything all by themselves is toxic to CEOs. The whole point of a team is force multiplication. If you don’t let your employees, investors, mentors, and coaches do what they do best, then all you have is a bunch of people paid to agree with you. It doesn’t scale, and it doesn’t succeed. Especially not now.
This is the time to surround yourself with a support network. You need people to act as sounding boards, to answer questions, and to solve problems. Fuck, you need people to connect with and keep you grounded. You are not an island, and you’re going to need all the help you can get. So, start reaching out.
Let’s go through who you should be reaching out to, and why.
First up, your team. If you’re still an early-stage startup, this is your co-founders or founding team. As you get bigger, it’s your executive team. The larger your company gets, the more important your team becomes, because they see beyond your field of vision. You need to empower them with information, and trust them with delegation.
Be honest with one another about the situation. Figure out what needs to be done to survive as a company, then focus on how you can thrive. Answering both these questions requires everyone’s best thinking, and you never know where that great idea is going to come from. As I previously wrote about, one of my thriving CEO found his company’s pandemic focus after reading a random WSJ article. There are a thousand timelines out there where he read the NYT instead, or grabbed coffee and skipped the news entirely. Leaning on your team ensures that you have more eyes scanning the world for opportunities.
Keep in mind that there is a fundamental difference between your co-founders and your founding team. Your co-founders are your peers and you can, and should, reach out to each other for emotional support. Your founding (and, later, executive) team is made up of employees. While you can communicate to them that this is a scary time with lots of turbulence, you should not act scared in their presence. All you’ll do is throw them of their game.
The next group of people you should reach out to are investors. Just be thoughtful about how you do so, because investors are funny. While there are many things we’d ask investors about, there are just as many things we wouldn’t share because it would only serve to make them nervous. Investors are not a general sounding board or an avenue to vent. Investors are people you ask specific things of. Whether it’s navigating new regulations, best practices in a crisis or getting connected with helpful resources, investors are people you should be listening to more than they are listening to you.
Employees should also be placed in this category. Fundamentally, anyone with a vested interest in the success of your company, other than co-founders, is not a reasonable recipient for your stress.
A coach is the only person on your team who will give you the straight truth with no vested interest. You can tell a coach things you can’t tell anyone else, and get advice that no one else will give you. More than that, coaches will listen to your stress and also make you act on it. Any good coach operates on the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) principle of IDS — Identify, Discuss, Solve. It’s not enough to just tell someone you have a problem and vent about it until you feel better, you have to figure out a way to make the problem go away to make optimal use of your limited time.
Outside of your team, you can find this feedback in a CEO group. In my experience, other CEOs will let you complain for about 90 seconds before they start asking questions and eventually proffer potential solutions. It’s just how founders are wired. CEO groups also play by the rule of getting what you give. Time is your most precious commodity, so CEO groups look for mutual conversations and learning. If you don’t have time for that, please don’t waste theirs.
Lastly, any person who’s ever been in a serious relationship knows there are times when you just need to complain, and don’t necessarily want a solution. You just want to be heard. Now is the tie to reach out to friends for support. Too often we think that nobody outside of business will understand our problems, but just because startups are hard, doesn’t mean they’re complex. Ninety percent of business boils down to three simple rules — sell something people want, make more money than you spend and be a decent human being.
— Eric Marcoullier
As I said above, your coach is the only person *on your team* who will always offer you the unvarnished truth. It’s not always easy and sometimes it even leaves a mark. Who ever said growth was painless?
I partnered with my good friend and fellow coach Joseph Logan to combine the best aspects of coaching with a CEO group in a service we call Resilient Founder. If you feel like you could use an additional point of view (or six), then please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the site to learn more.