Evolution of the Founder: Shifts in Delegation


  • Mitchell Davidson University of Michigan - Ross School of Business


Start-up founders routinely exercise decision-making authority as they establish and develop their ventures. However, as start-ups grow, it becomes challenging for their founders to make all decisions on behalf of their organizations. To capitalize on new opportunities, founders must delegate to colleagues outside of their core team to free up their physical and cognitive resources. Extant research on delegation focuses on comparatively static organizational settings, failing to capture the volatile processes that are characteristic of start-ups. Given the unpredictable nature of start-ups, founders must be highly flexible to drive the success of their ventures. Through a qualitative, inductive study of 37 start-up founders, I offer a theoretical model of delegation in start-ups depicting the psychological shifts founders undergo when surpassing developmental milestones. My findings suggest that these psychological shifts occur in three broadly defined phases: (1) attachment, (2) uncoupling, and (3) opportunity. When interviewed, founders generally corroborated experiences where they made choices that led to increased growth or stagnation for their organizations. In developing a process model for rapidly evolving environments, I further elucidate the processes of leadership and delegation.






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