The Search for belonging
Founders and entrepreneurs need a great deal of energy in order to create and then sustain an organisational system. That energy is often connected to their private sense of their place, or lack of it, in their family-system-of-origin.
Some have a desire to stay separate from their origins. That energy to get away, to create a sense of separateness, may fuel them towards significant external success. Overtly distanced, they are however covertly deeply connected. Just out of their conscious awareness they wish to belong and feel a part of something, part of a relationship system. As a result, many get their sense of place, safety and belonging from the organisational systems which they create.
They may even describe their business and staff as ‘like a family’, bringing their unmet needs and unresolved dynamics into their organisations. This places a burden into the system and can lead to complex and limiting dynamics.
Others set up businesses in an unconscious attempt to get their parents’ attention, to be seen, recognised and acknowledged.
They may become commercially successful and build empires in the hope of being seen and accepted. Those who describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneurs’ may be repeating this search for recognition and belonging in different ways, in different contexts, multiple attempts to show and prove that they are ‘enough’ to belong.
Leadership with these kinds of hidden dynamics often peaks at mid-life where the founder/entrepreneur who has rejected or is ‘on the run’ from their past, begins to become exhausted and their behaviour erratic, depressed or controlling. These are all signs of a deeper need to connect and so can be useful as indicators of an unmet need that can be resolved through a systemic perspective and methodology.
Nobody escapes some wounding and unmet needs in childhood and one way of expressing and trying to resolve them is to start an organisational system. This article explores some of the dynamics and patterns that can emerge as a result.
Founder Syndrome is a well-documented phenomenon. However the connection between the energy it takes to create an organisation and the founder’s family-of-origin is often overlooked in professional development and coaching.
When an individual with an unresolved family dynamic sets up an organisational system, patterns will emerge that can be seen particularly clearly in the way the system is founded.
For example a man who gets caught in his mother’s sphere of influence, either because he rejects her as a ‘punishment’ for hurt he feels she caused him – a covert bond – or because he is very close to her, like a surrogate partner – an overt bond – can be described as ‘Mother’s sons‘.
Mother’s sons get activated by any new life-giving system, so may find themselves creating new organisational systems and often describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneurs’. In fact it is often simply a search for connection, an existential search for a more balanced relationship with the source of their life.
For female founders there may often also be a search for connection with a parent or family system. Women create life and so the potential for confusion and overlay between a family and a business system are high. And all patterns repeat.
Many of the most wealthy individuals in the world have been driven to significant levels of outer success as a result of this need to be seen, recognised by or re-connected to their father or mother. (This is pattern is particularly strong when adoption is a part of the system-of-origin.)
The drive and energy consumed in these ways rarely has the desired effect or meets the need to be seen, to be recognised, to belong.
Founder-led and other organisations also attract people with their own unresolved connections into their families and their need to belong. They project onto the founder and the organisation all kinds of needs that they appear to be able to meet.
This is particularly apparent when there are opposite sex founders or leaders in partnership, who may get mistaken as ‘ideal parents’ and a ‘perfect home/family for me’ by those employees with that search in their psyche. These dynamics place a burden on the leaders and the organisational systems, which aren’t designed to meet them.
Organisational systems with these dynamics may begin to suffer from inertia, confusion around role clarity and difficult leavings.
Many founders with this pattern hold and enact a just-out-of-conscious-awareness ‘Life Sentence’ something like this: “I’ll show you! (what I can do alone / that I deserve to belong.)“ This inner unspoken commitment often combines with a judgment over one or both of their parents as if to say “I’m better than you.” If the deep need to belong and the unconscious loyalties that emerge from it are seen and recognised they can enable and resource the individual and the wider system in surprising ways.
It is at this point that founders are sometimes ready to listen to and engage with a systemic perspective on their exhaustion or frustration. Systemic coaching and workshop constellations are designed to work where systems dynamics entangle and influence each other. From the entangled picture great insight and fresh resources can emerge. The approach offers founders the opportunity to restore the flow of life, of leadership and organisational health.
This article explores some of the common patterns and dynamics in founders and entrepreneurs with unmet recognition and belonging needs. Others can be found in this article, for coaches and consultants who work with founders and founder-led systems.
“I’ll show you”
If a founder doesn’t feel seen, or feels misunderstood or unacknowledged by a parent and/or siblings, they may spend their working lives creating systems which are designed to attract their attention. They may also work hard to show their parents that they are better than them, alone. If the pattern originates in the family system then it is likely to repeat in the organisational systems they join and be connected to the way they belong, taking the dynamic forward. This “I’ll show you” dynamic can also emerge as a result of a belonging in an organisational system where there was a difficult ending, or the leaving process was not attended to in a way that honoured the contributions they made.