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How to Be a Successful Founder

07 Mar How to Be a Successful Founder

In this article I provide a Founder’s Manifesto that outlines the 8 key intentions required for successful entrepreneurship. Correctly applied these will deliver awareness, wellbeing and sustainable performance.

Currently, 66% of adults intend to become founders. We long for the freedom to do something meaningful. To create; build; earn financial freedom; and find dignity. Most won’t make it. Out of every 10 inspired founders, 9 will fail. It can be messy.

In our age of jobless productivity growth, technology and artificial intelligence, many find themselves at home wondering how to create an income stream. So-called consultants are essentially founders of a business of one. A few will become true founders of businesses that grow, employ and prosper. Some put a dent in the universe.

As a founder of our business, a coach, and trainer of entrepreneurs for over 25 years, there are clear patterns in the path to success. There are also warning signs of failure and trauma. We have learned that a few specific disciplines can drive success, rejuvenate your business, and enrich your life.

Depression Amongst Entrepreneurs

The first lesson came from my executive health practice in the 1990’s. About 27% of clients fulfilled the criteria for diagnosis of depression. What shocked me, is that unlike most of the population, entrepreneurs are very reluctant to seek help. This is confirmed by the Harvard Business Review article “How founders can recognise and combat depression” where the conclusion was that 30% suffer depression.

In those days, evidence-based medicine encouraged me to treat them with anti-depressants. With the luxury of two hours per person, I worked hard to help them complement their recovery with physical wellbeing, relaxation, emotional mastery and thinking skills. By 2000, there was no doubt left that “alternative” approaches worked better for entrepreneurs.

The Resilience Institute was founded on that discovery.

Emotional Energy

The second lesson of the nineties was that founders experience high rates of hypomania and manic depression. Hypomania is technically the opposite of depression. Massive swings in mood are called manic depression. Minor swings are called cyclothymia.

Mental illness is far more common in creative people and founders are no different. Their emotional energy is the source of entrepreneurship. When dissatisfied they take action leaving jobs and starting a business. When manic, they drive with gob-smacking energy towards inspired visions. Think Elon Musk, Jim Clark, and Steve Jobs.

The founder’s journey is both blessed and cursed by this emotional energy. For some it brings stellar success and for others catastrophic failure. The pressure, uncertainty, and risk of entrepreneurship catalyses emotional storms. Those who learn to understand, shape and direct this “touch of madness”, can have wonderful lives and transform the world.

With thanks to thousands of founders who have shared their journey and struggle with me over the years here is what I call the “Founder’s Manifesto”.

Founder manifesto

The Founder’s Manifesto

8 intentions for every Entrepreneur.

1. Know yourself

If you run blind into your start-up, you risk a life of suffering for yourself, your loved ones and your business community. With many options in business, you can match what you do to who you are – but you have to know who you are. This is no simple feat. I am not a great fan of personality tests but two dimensions are key – risk tolerance and extroversion. Their opposites – fear and introversion – are rarely suited to start-ups.

Don’t lie on the couch or hire a coach, get out there and do different things. Work in different industries and roles, test some commercial ideas, travel, do short and practical skill-based courses. Meditate, journal and read widely. Take your time before you commit to THE ONE. Match your skills, passions and sense of meaning to the opportunity and challenges of the industry.

Don’t wait too long. The founder role triggers amazing opportunities for learning. Stay awake, notice how you change and match what you do in the business to who you are and where your skills evolve.

2. Close in on the flow-zone

Flow is the state in which you are super-productive and fully absorbed. The challenge fully matches your skills. The more flow you create, the more likely your success. Over the past decade flow has become mainstream. Study it and practice it. Remember that you will grow and change over time.

Keep reshaping your role to match your current skill and passion. Certain tasks – particularly people and accounting – are better done by others. We frequently meet founders who loved the passion of the core business and growth but who become stale and disillusioned with the growing management role. Finding the right support team to allow you to add value in your flow-zone, is good for everyone. You won’t get it right first time.

Flow is only sustainable with regular relaxation and skilful recovery practices.

3. Track your personal performance

A growing business presents endless measures that you must measure – sales, revenue, profit, market dynamics and people. Few founders give adequate attention to their personal measures of success. Remember, as founder you are the source of all things. The business needs you to be in good shape.

Learn how to track your health, fitness, sleep, emotions and mental state. Far too many founders forget this critical discipline and end up losing health, suffering mental illness or losing important relationships. Resilience Questionnaire.

4. Define and execute your non-negotiables

Founders must impose their basic disciplines of self-care and optimisation into every day. The rhythm of sleeping consistently, exercising, meditating, eating well, and practicing positivity provides both nourishment and stability in a life that can easily be the opposite.

5. Master emotion

Being attuned and skilful with emotions will help you negotiate the inevitable emotional swings that come with success and failure. Under pressure, we tend to be less emotionally aware. We slip into irritability, anger, fear and despondency when things don’t go our way. When they do, we can become irrationally exuberant.

Attuned to these emotional storms you know when to take a break, counter dangerous emotion, or get help. In my experience, this is the most neglected aspect of today’s founder. While it can be a bit awkward, every little bit of growth has huge payback. This is particularly true when the founder learns how to pay attention to and read the emotions of others

6. Train your mind

Being alert to the environment and clear in your decisions underpins a strong founder. Activity and information overload can leave the mind spinning through the day. Attention can jump between distractions, rather than being focused on what matters. Learn to calm, focus and direct your attention.

7. Build team flow and performance

Once through the start-up, this must be the founders long term commitment. Real breakthroughs follow good teams working well together. When a team ups flow, productivity doubles.

8. Be a force for good

The successful founder wields significant influence. Business is an engine for constructive change in society and nature. It can also be destructive. Never forget now deep our moral sense of right and wrong is. Be explicit about doing good through your business, in your behaviour, and with your financial success.


Dr Sven HansenDr Sven Hansen is the Founder of the Resilience Institute.

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