The isolated island of the founder

“We’re like one big family here.”  Beware of falling into this mindset if you’re an entrepreneur, Wyseminds founder and business coach Julie...

Written by Wyseminds · 2 min read >

“We’re like one big family here.” 

Beware of falling into this mindset if you’re an entrepreneur, Wyseminds founder and business coach Julie Perkins tells James Johnson on the Future Fit Founder podcast.

The more you’re involved in the minutiae of your business, the more you put those around you into a stranglehold. You don’t mean for that to happen, but it’s the inevitable outcome when you can’t let go.

“At the start of any business, it’s easy to see your team as your family,” Julie says. “You become an island and start feeling like anyone who’s not on the island with you, working as hard to drive each moment, just doesn’t understand.” 

This is the curse of the founder’s trap, the place where you lose the space between you and your company and can’t find a way out. Your identity swallowed up, you have inadvertently become the purpose of your business.

This is not the way to growth.

The epiphany question

Julie speaks from a palace of tough experience. In 2008, she was at the helm of Specsavers in the Netherland leading it through a recession and spearheading an expansion into uncharted territory. The pressure of high expectations and personal attachment to the business left her depleted and without the capacity to know what to do next. 

In her garden at 3am, she held her hands up to the sky, yearning for some kind of sign. What more could she do? She could go no faster yet whatever she did, it was one big chug. Things were not moving as they should.

“My colleague asked ‘do you still love what you do?’ and I had an epiphany. It’s a very important question to ask all the time. You can kid yourself you’re loving it, but what exactly is it you’re loving? Success? The hope of success? The dream? The trophy? You love something but it’s only when you ask the question that you allow yourself the time to reflect on what’s really going on.”

No entrepreneur goes into business ownership blindly. They’re aware of the up days and the down days. What Julie’s talking about is the point of getting stuck. 

“That reflective question of ‘do you still love what you do’ can pave the way for flow.”

Slow down to go faster

Founders burn bright, move fast and use a lot of oxygen. There’s often mess and chaos and you’re riding the hamster wheel harder and faster. Everyone mucks in and you’re at the front shouting louder and louder into the abyss.

This way of working reduces the oxygen supply for everyone yet still you speed up and do more of the same. The company’s growing; you must be doing something right. Right?

Wrong. When guiding female entrepreneurs on their growth journey, Julie returns to this point again and again. When you’re at this point, you need to take an opposite action and “slow down to go faster”. It’s the only way to produce the space that achieves clarity and sound judgement. Transformation comes when you allow people the chance to breathe again. Slowing down and stepping off the hamster wheel create these conditions.

A “beautiful six months”

During her testing time in 2008, Julie discovered this. She had to reposition her voice or risk losing the people she valued so much; who’d helped her grow the business to this point.

“We get so caught up at the capabilities level that we become unapproachable in terms of values and who we are.”

Reflecting on her colleague’s question, Julie nailed exactly what it was that she loved (growing businesses) and what she didn’t (the daily small stuff).

“The founder’s fear of letting go is that everything they’ve worked so hard to build will fall apart,” she says. 

She decided to make herself redundant; take herself out of the picture. She closed every single store for two days,to retain the meaning of purpose and values and to connect peoples contribution to making the change in how people bought their spectacles..

“I still feel guilty about it after 20 years!” she says. “But people are looking to put their values into something they believe in.”

In the “beautiful six months” following this, she established exactly where she wanted the business to be and how best she and the team would get it there. The step back was the step forward that the business needed to achieve its performance breakthrough.

Wyseminds is a team of business growth specialists and coaches. If you’re a female founder who’s hit a brick wall, the Wyseminds programme Your Journey could help you get back on the right track.