Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rollin News Cross Post - Founder's Syndrome

Wow, it has been waaay too long since I posted an article!  I wholeheartedly apologize for this and blame fiveonfive and Rollin News for taking up my time writing for them not to mention 2N1 Skate Shoppe becoming more and more popular (not complaining, just explaining).

Anyway, I thought it would be nice to follow the lead of some of my favorite shows and do a crossover post.  I recently wrote a couple somewhat controversial articles for Rollin News in which I discuss Founder's Syndrome (also known as Founderitis) in Roller Derby leagues and have posted both below for your reading pleasure.

Feel free to comment with your own experiences with Founder's Syndrome and come up with a haiku if interested in possibly getting a goodie bag.  Well, without further ado:

Board of Dictators

You are one of the founding members of your league, have served on the Board of Directors (BOD) since the beginning, and any time the league faces tough choices, you never hesitate to make decisions. The league is your baby. You were more than eager to teach how to tie the laces on its first pair of skates, you jumped at the chance to help think up and yell its first jeer, and you lovingly nurtured while it stumbled through the league's first home bout. You honestly feel if you weren't making important league decisions, the league either wouldn't survive, or would end up evolving in detrimental, why in the world would you relinquish your power? Instead, you do whatever it takes to ensure the league continues to head in the direction you know is best. Those who disagree with your decisions either don't understand your vision or don't have the league's best interest at heart. You would rather see the league “split” or dissolve before allowing anything you don't agree with to occur.

Have you met, or heard of, someone who could relate to this scenario? Have you been a member of a league where an entitled member, or members, called the shots while ignoring differing opinions, even when the majority of the league was in favor of those opinions? Did you leave a league to join or start a new league because something like this happened? Or...perhaps you find yourself agreeing with and relating to the person described above, nodding along to each sentence as if I'm describing you.

Whether the opening paragraph describes you or someone you know, I'm sure the league involved has had to deal with internal strife because of it and if it hasn't yet, someday soon it will find itself in crisis. Hopefully this article will give you some insight into this type of issue and a few ideas on how to deal with it, no matter what side of the track you're on.

Founder's Syndrome
Since I started playing Roller Derby almost 6 years ago (wow, where has the time gone?!), I have heard of, and experienced, leagues suffering from “Founder's Syndrome.” Founder's Syndrome (also known as Founderitis) occurs when one or more creators maintain disproportionate power and influence after establishment, leading to organizational and personal issues. I think this quote from the Founder's Syndrome Wikipedia article is an excellent description, “The passion and charisma of the founder or founders, which was such an important reason for the successful establishment of the organization, becomes a limiting and destructive force, rather than the creative and productive one it was in the early stages.”

Founder's Syndrome (FS from now on) isn't unique to Roller Derby leagues and can occur at any non-profit or for profit business; however, many of us never encountered it until we became involved with this sport so dealing with it has been a struggle. Those struggling from FS may not even know of its existence.

FS can be very destructive to an organization. When members feel their opinions are not being considered and their needs not being addressed, league morale plummets. When league members are unhappy, word spreads, which can cause a decline in membership. As the divide between the privileged few and league majority grows, so does bad blood and visceral hatred for those in positions of power. Volatile tension increases until the unhappy masses either implement a hostile takeover or quit to form their own league or join an existing one nearby.

Unfortunately, this isn't just a cautionary tale...and it gets worse. Those suffering from FS not only cause league animosity, some of their attempts to maintain control could be illegal. Each individual state has laws pertaining to businesses formed as corporations (which is the business model most leagues operate under nowadays), whether non-profit or for profit, in regards to items such as voting, meetings, minutes, etc. For example, in Alaska, any corporation's Board of Directors (BOD) has specific notification requirements prior to holding meetings or when proposing to change corporation bylaws. They must also keep adequate minutes of all BOD meetings and have these minutes available when requested by shareholders/members or else they could face at least $5,000 in fines. From what I've gathered, actual jail time is probably not going to occur unless something like embezzlement is going on, but just one fine of $5,000 would seriously impact any Roller Derby league's bottom line.

Now that we have discussed some worst case scenarios, let's talk about how to avoid the pitfalls of FS in the first place...

Preventative Measures
Whether you are the founder of a league or later find yourself in a position of authority, you have the power to keep FS symptoms at bay. First and foremost, have an exit strategy. If you have the mindset that you are going to occupy that position for a specific amount of time and truly want the league to thrive when the next person fills that role, the league has a much better chance of surviving. Instead of keeping information close to the vest, create/update league documents with instructions on how you perform specific tasks pertaining to your position. When it comes time to hand over the reins, don't think of it as letting go of whatever prestige or power that came with that title. Instead, think of it as a graduation. Just like completing high school or college, graduating from a position of authority is an opportunity to transition into a new phase of your life.

For the league, changeover can help keep things fresh when those elected have new ideas and different skill sets than the previous incumbents, which helps to prevent burnout. It can be difficult to hand your baby over to be cared for by a new individual. You need to have faith in your fellow league mates and believe they too are looking out for the league's best interests. Yes, sometimes new ideas end up flopping or the person you thought would do really well ends up not being a good fit, but that's ok. Mistakes happen, that's how you grow as a league and find new ways to tackle issues. Once you overcome an obstacle as a league and put safeguards in place so it doesn't happen again, your league will be stronger for it.

FS For Life
Roller Derby culture is one of acceptance, compromise, and inclusiveness; however, every once in a while you'll find someone so taken over by FS symptoms that they would rather destroy their league, their “baby,” than see anyone else take over. If you know of someone like this, please encourage them to be completely transparent and create a league with a sole-proprietor business structure. This way, there are no pretenses or false promises and those who join are aware of what they are getting into and how the league will be governed.

If you have faced challenges involving those suffering from Founder's Syndrome, please feel free to share your story in the comments section, especially if your league was able to overcome and continue to survive afterward.  I look forward to hearing form you.

Board of Diplomats

My previous article, Board of Dictators, discussed how Founder's Syndrome (FS) has negatively effected Roller Derby leagues, sometimes causing leagues to split or even completely dissolve.  I received some great feedback through emails, personal discussions, and comments to that article and would like to clarify some points.

Leagues are Unique
Some of the discussions I had concerning FS and the previous article made me realize I didn't emphasize this enough: not all league founders will develop FS.  A founder, or anyone for that matter, can be in a leadership role for a lengthy period of time of a thriving league.  When I say thriving, I don't just mean monetarily. 

Thriving leagues have clear policies in place which are followed and understood by the members and also updated as needed to keep up with changes affecting the league.  Thriving leagues address issues head on and work with members to ensure their needs are not being overlooked.  Thriving leagues conduct business openly by properly informing and inviting members to attend important meetings and providing access to league documents (BOD minutes, financial statements, voting records, etc.).

Secrecy leads to distrust, which in turn causes frustration, confusion, and internal strife; however, it doesn't have to be this way.

Delicate Balance
As mentioned in the previous article, leadership turnover has its advantages.  Newly appointed leaders often bring different ideas to the table and may be able to view old issues from a previously overlooked viewpoint.  Fresh blood also helps to prevent burn out, which occurs when someone is in a position so long that they become bored while feeling overworked and uninspired. 

While many of us have felt burned out at some point in our lives, something special happens when we find a job we are good at that challenges and excites us.  If your league has a president who does an excellent job leading your thriving league and they happen to be one of the league founders, it's not necessarily a bad thing for them to continue to serve the league in that position.  The problem occurs when symptoms of FS cause issues to the detriment of the league's ability to thrive.

Big Picture
So, how can you tell if you and your league are suffering from FS or if you have found your place in the system?  Try to take a step back and look at the situation from an outsider's perspective.  Do you feel like you have to hide or make decisions behind the membership's back or are you comfortable bringing possible changes to a vote, ready to proceed no matter the outcome?  Do you conduct business behind closed doors or is information given and made readily available for the members?  Do you feel wiped out and physically/mentally destroyed when having to deal with league issues, or are you invigorated? After honestly answering these questions, you should be able to come to a conclusion as to which side of the fence you stand (or, in our case, skate).

I hope this was able to clarify a few points and show that just because someone is in a position for a lengthy period of time, and happens to be one of the league's founders, they (and the league) aren't necessarily suffering from FS.

Thank you to all of those who contacted me to tell me their stories and experiences with this subject matter.  To show my appreciation, I would like to give away some goodies!  In order to be considered to receive one of these goodie packages, all you have to do is come up with a Roller Derby themed haiku and enter it into the comments of this article.  I'll choose a few winners and announce them with my next Rollin News article.

Until We Skate Again!


  1. Concrete skate park
    wheels and sunset--
    Fuchsia pink.

  2. Wheels burn up the track,
    hearts race for the love of it.
    Skate until you can't.

  3. First lace up your skates,
    hit the track and free your mind.
    Roller Derby Chick!


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Until we skate again!