Martin Farrell

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It's inevitable that founders flounder instead of letting go

22 January 2015

Supporting what we create is an inevitable and positive part of our humanity

Martin Farrell

Imagine this: you hold a pencil above a table. You imagine what will happen when you let it go. You will probably foresee that the pencil will clatter onto the table and then settle.

Imagine someone sets up a charity. They put a lot of time, passion and maybe money into it, and it becomes the centre of their universe for years. The time comes to let go. What happens? They do not let go. Some people around them dream of the past, others long for the future. Everyone struggles. That's what happens.

Founders and those around them flounder. 'Twas ever thus. Founders have a habit of not letting go of their creations. For the rest of us, our habit is believing that it could ever be different. So founders and those around them are locked into a collusion, imagining that it is a human failing that there is turbulence and distress when founders exit and a new era struggles to emerge.

Let's see this not as a failing; we should realise that supporting what we create is an inevitable and positive part of our humanity. Letting go is hard for everyone. So let's embrace this truth and know that doing so might ease the pain. Then we can move from blinkered optimism to fierce realism, acknowledging that this special transition after three, seven or 21 years will always be hard. Do not pretend otherwise.

Know that those who follow founders will inevitably be criticised by those who came before, who fear that the core vision is in jeopardy. Know that founders will say that of course they will let go, but that they will struggle or fail to do so.

Know that the dynamic is hot, and consider getting help from outside the cauldron to hold it and guide the transition. And anticipate the struggle that will inevitably follow – see it coming a mile off and place it in the open on the table. Do not let it fester underneath.

So when the time has come, everyone invites the pencil to drop, hears it clatter and sees it bounce around. With care, it will not break.

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(Photo courtesy Third Sector)