There are startup mantras like “Move fast and break things” that reverberate in founders’ heads. Speed is essential for startups, and founders need to be decisive, but founders who find themselves overly impulsive will do more harm than good.
Patience is typically thought of as part of waiting in line and alike. This is low-level patience. Low-level patience is when you have no control over the circumstances. The line at the BMV moving slowly or seemingly not all is something nothing can be done about by those waiting. High-level patience is for circumstances we have some complete control over. Founders need high-level patience.
In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman dives into the differences between low-level and high-leveling thinking. Reactionary vs. contemplative. The same dynamic is at play with patience. Just as founders need to slow down their thinking around certain things, they have to know when to be patient.
A startup can feel like a roller coaster day-to-day, but a startup acquisition or going public takes between seven and 10 years on average, which means founders have to balance the urgent with the important. A decade is a pretty good run and not a flash in the pan, reinforcing that founders need to play a long game while dealing with daily chaos.
Founders who play the long game and don’t get too caught up in the moment serve their companies and themselves better. Is it hard to have patience as a founder when there are so many things to do and often with not enough time, energy, and resources? Yes. Most founders are action-oriented. It is a significant factor in being a founder. Founders should value action over inaction, but even more highly valued should be mindful action. As I write about in my book, The Founders Manual, fighting negative forces with equal, direct force at best creates an impasse and more likely encourages the negative forces to respond with even greater force. Impatient founders create greater resistance, while patient founders allow circumstances to be better.
I get the pressures and immediacy of being a founder. I’ve had to close a sale or investment to make payroll. Things that are urgent for founders demand the attention and energy warranted, but founders often adopt the mentality that everything is urgent and accordingly make impulsive decisions. One of the things I find myself saying to founders now more than ever based upon my own experiences is, “Don’t boil the ocean today if you don’t have to.” And guess what? Most days, we don’t have to. But founders think and act as they do.
Founders who are impatient and impulsive around matters that require patience and consideration will lose the confidence and trust in their team, investors, partners, and most importantly themselves. Impatient founders diminish their belief that they can make sound, well-thought-out decisions. Impatience and reactionary behavior become the norm for the founders and the company creating a chaotic environment.
Founders act impatiently and impulsively out of fear. Doing a lot and doing it all quickly feels like progress and covers up the fear. The fear of failing as a founder and disappointing themselves and those around them and involved in the company. Too many founders believe any action is better than thinking and contemplation. I have spoken with thousands of founders, and the one common thing I have repeatedly heard is, “I don’t have time to think.” When I ask them to clarify whether they mean they don’t have time to stop and think or create an environment where they choose not to stop and think, most don’t know how to respond. The vast majority believe they don’t have time to think, but in actuality, they don’t want to slow down and think, so they allow no time and space for thinking. Founders are afraid that overthinking will be perceived as lazy, slow, and indecisive.
Founders, be mindful of being fearful and letting it drive impulsiveness and impatience. The more patience you bring to yourself, the more you will create a sense of calm and steadiness with your company that will help define your culture. Startups with frenetic cultures reflect how the founders conduct themselves just as those that remain steady do. A founder’s level of patience, measured thought, and intentional action is what the company’s operating model will be.
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