Launching and managing a startup that you’re passionate about can feel a bit like character development. Whether you’re a founder of a company or in charge of key operations, the goal or mission you are working towards seems personal. And in many respects, it is! This is especially true in the beginning, when it’s born into the world out your own sweat and tears.
That said, it’s a mistake to think your company is your alter-ego, and that you must necessarily grow and mature together in the same way, toward the same end. There will come a point where you personally need to make a mindset shift in order to keep the business running. At this stage, your business will have to assume independence in its own right: a mark of success and separation that can be bittersweet to go through.
We’ve all heard said among entrepreneurial circles: “My business is an extension of myself.” While not necessarily a red flag, it’s this type of mindset and even company culture that can prevent you — the human being and individual executing plans, implementing processes, and overseeing operations — from maturing to your fullest potential. You should want your company to survive and maybe even (gasp) thrive without you directing every move. Why? Simply put, it can’t always be about you. The business needs to assume its own identity and that’s a good thing.
Think about it this way: if you, the entrepreneur, are the parent, your company is your child. In the beginning, your whole life is about your kid — you make all the choices, from the food they eat to the clothes they wear and everything in between. As kids grow up, though, it can be hard for parents to adapt because they have to grow up as well and learn to parent differently.
As a company flourishes and expands, then, it’s important for leaders, like parents, to leave their ego at the door to deflate. This is what I call the growth paradox. In the beginning, it truly takes a strong sense of self and connection to your cause to launch a business. But as the company grows, a disconnect begins to form; it develops needs that may be different from your own. You can’t keep taking credit for its growth and success, or even failure, at the personal level any longer.
Ego gets in the way of this because it can cloud our judgment. A growing business needs a solid foundation, efficient internal processes, and, in many cases, sufficient capital or investment dollars to continue to grow. These may indeed have been provided by its founders and investors, but the overall business structure must be managed objectively. Even if your personality is part of the brand, or you are selling products you created yourself, business activities must be completely separated from your feelings and personal goals or you will experience some conflict.
When we bring ourselves, and by proxy, our egos, into business operations, we’re dealing with blurred lines and unidentified boundaries — the type that can be bad for business. It’s important to remember that the business itself doesn’t serve you at a personal level past a certain period. Maybe this happens after a major round of funding, or after you reach a certain level of growth. Whatever the case may be, leaders and organizations have to be prepared to navigate this new territory and not expect to ‘level up’ alongside the company when it reaches a certain level of growth.
As your company continues to thrive, the focus will shift to the business structure and how well it’s operating under different conditions. There really are no exceptions to this rule. Those who fail to realize this often do end up paying a big price at both the professional and personal level.