Twitter's Jack Dorsey slams founder’s syndrome: how would HR deal with it?

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced he would be leaving the company this week after nearly 16 years.

In an open letter on his resignation, which he very aptly tweeted, Dorsey notably criticised other founders for standing in the way of success, writing: “There aren’t many companies that get to this level. And there aren’t many founders that choose their company over their own ego.”

Known as founder’s syndrome, or ‘founderitis’, leaders’ passion and charisma can lead to the ultimate self-destruction of a company. 

Speaking to HR magazine Sandra Porter, manager director at outsourced HR company the HR Dept., explained: “It is often the self-belief of founder CEOs that drives their rollercoaster success.

“Regarded as mavericks, they can have tricky personality traits that have enabled their success but also make them thorny characters to work with. 

“As an HR director, you need to recognise the brilliance that they bring without bowing to their status where that is not in the business interest.”

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Building a relationship that enables candid communication between the founder CEO and HR is crucial she said: “The act of holding a mirror up to the CEO, almost as a curious and trusted observer, to provoke conversation about how their actions might appear to others and of the potential negative consequences of these, regardless of their intentions, is challenging but imperative.”

If so-called founderitis isn’t addressed, Jordan James Barry, a qualified executive coach and CPO at the Motor Insurers' Bureau, added that it can set the tone for the rest of the organisation.

He told HR magazine he tackles such behaviours by clearing up expectations in executive contracts.

“Then, when people deviate from the agreed standard, they are called out on it,” he said.

“I also ensure that a large portion of ExCo reward is linked to behaviours and demonstration of the cultural values.”

Barry added that the role of a CPO requires the observation, coaching and assessment of leadership capability both performance-wise and behaviourally, but it is not always easy.

He added: “It requires you to be tough and no nonsense, not passive and transactional.”