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Founders and Leaders: feeling alone? You aren’t.

It it common in a time like this for leaders to feel uniquely alone in their situations. Fear, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome can come up big in times of crises. You aren’t alone.

Matt Munson
Matt Munson
5 min read
Founders and Leaders: feeling alone? You aren’t.

It is common in a time like this for leaders to feel uniquely alone in their situations. Fear, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome can come up big in times of crises. You aren’t alone.

Moving from founder/CEO to coach has given me the tremendous gift of being able to step inside the stories, experiences, triumphs, and anxieties of dozens of leaders at once. This visibility is a gift in my work, but it has also been a gift to me personally. It has helped me to see that much of what I experienced as a leader during the 7-years I spent leading my own recent startup was common to nearly all leaders.

Feeling anxious about whether you have what it takes to lead a team of people during a time like this? You aren’t alone.

Nobody is born knowing how to lead in crises.  Times like this are tremendously difficult for everyone. It is easy to imagine that other leaders are weathering this experience better than you are. And yes people respond differently and cope differently. But allow me to reassure you that everyone from yours truly to your CEO idols are feeling this time. Anxiety, uncertainty, confusion, fear...these are near-ubiquitous emotions right now.

Feeling like you just want to throw in the towel and run for the hills?  You aren’t alone.

These aren’t the days you envision when you set out to build a company. Maybe you had a great idea for a new product. Maybe you wanted to start a company to work with your good friends. Perhaps  you thought fame and fortune were around the corner. Whatever the motivation, it’s unlikely you envisioned yourself leading a team of humans through a global pandemic. And that’s ok. The great leaders we all grew up admiring didn’t envision the challenges they faced either. You’ll be ok too. You've got this.

Feeling overwhelmed with anxiety at 3 AM?  You aren’t alone.

The 3 AM founder wakeup is common enough that it’s becoming a time-honored tradition.

There is a reason for this experience. We aren’t wired to excel in the middle of the night. Our prefrontal cortex, the more evolved, mature and thoughtful part of the brain, isn’t fully ‘online’ at 3 AM.

That’s why the problems that seem navigable by day feel overwhelming during these middle-of-the-night bouts of anxiety. But you aren’t alone. Nearly all leaders I speak with experience these 3 AM freak-outs daily or often.

Finding yourself bickering with cofounders or your leadership team?   You aren’t alone.

We are programmed to process our anxiety in community with the people closest to us. When we do it well, that’s a beautiful thing. When we are showing up anxious, sleep-deprived, or too charged up on the recent New York Times Coronavirus coverage, it’s easy to show up like overwhelmed kids.

It’s common to project the fear and anxiety onto the people we are spending our time with whether that’s a cofounder or romantic partner.

I find myself having times daily during this virus lockdown where I get filled with feelings of anxiety and  a deep resentment that this is all happening. When I process that through journaling or in conversation with a friend over video, I can move through it. When it comes up right before an interaction with my wife or son, I often find myself carrying that anxiety into the conversation or feeling negative emotions in our interactions that have nothing to do with them.

Worried you won’t be able to take care of your team the way you want?  You aren’t alone.

Many of us leader-types end up in these roles because they feel familiar. Many of us had elements of our childhood or adolescence where we were invited or compelled to step into caretaker roles in our families of origin. In my case, it was a father who struggled with addiction and a mother and sister who struggled with the resulting instability. I was the stable, caring, connecting one. For leaders who become leaders as a result of these childhood roles, leading in times of turmoil can feel natural but also uniquely challenging. It feels natural because it’s familiar. But it can be deeply challenging because these childhood roles get matched closely with our identity and even equated with survival.

It’s not your job to save your team.

You cannot fix these circumstances, and that’s ok. It’s your job to resource them with clarity and to be a partner in the journey. Working remotely, especially, clarity around who owns what and how information is shared might be the best gift you can give.

Afraid you won’t get the performance out of your team the company needs to survive?   You aren’t alone.

This remote thing is hard for a lot of people. For leaders who deal regularly with anxiety about whether they are pushing the team to do great work and to excel, going suddenly fully remote can be anxiety-inducing. You aren’t alone.

If you’ve recruited bright, internally-driven, hard working people, now is a good time to lean into trust. You might even voice both your anxiety and your trust to your team. Voicing our fears has the dual benefit of helping us to find freedom from them and helping us find partners in the solutions. If you’re anxious about performance in a time like this, your team probably already knows that. Better to voice it and to also share your interest in being trusting partner during this time.

Confused about how to weigh growth and austerity?   You aren’t alone.

Growth is life for startups. Or maybe cash is? During times like this it’s really hard to know. I’ve written at length about the huge shift my last company had to go through when the VC markets suddenly shut off in Q1 of 2016 and we found ourselves having to shift the plan to profitability. Very fucking hard.

It feels unfair and painful when the goalposts that determine success suddenly shift. I coach several companies who were planning on raising in Q2 and were well-positioned to do so. They still might, but the shift in climate may necessitate a massive change in plan. For those of us who grew up straight-A students who were really good at memorizing the answers, a sudden change in the right answer like this can feel jarring. It is frustrating as hell. It’s also the reality of running a startup in a dynamic market.  You aren’t alone.

Feeling like this ain’t what you signed up for?   You aren’t alone.

I know. I know. This is all really fucking hard. The things that worked last year or last month may not feel like they are working right now.

The leader you have learned to be may not be the leader you need to be for your company through the time that is now at hand.

But that’s ok. You aren’t alone.

You are part of a community of leaders that are going through this challenge together. And we can go through it more together than we have in the past. This is a great day to reach out to a fellow leader, maybe someone you haven’t spoken with lately, and ask them how they’re doing in this time. And if helpful, reach out to a coach, a therapist, or a friend to share this load. These are  times for quarantine but not for aloneness.

Thinking of all you leaders out there and sending out love from my own little quarantine base here in LA.



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