The bullet-proof (founder) habit that gains and keeps the trust of your team

Brent Lowe
4 min readApr 10, 2017

When the energy and commitment of a team slumps, there is only one reason. Super successful CEOs know the reason. They make sure it never happens.

Once superstars disengage, the organization is headed for trouble. In my work with founding CEOs, I’ve seen how a simple, innocuous misstep quickly grows into a team-destroyer. Productivity drops. Contributions and creative problem solving disappear. Worse yet, disgruntled former superstars spread malaise like a contagious virus, bringing others down with them.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can keep your team on your side. The key is to understand and embrace a truth of human emotion…

Everyone is happy when your team’s current reality remains above their expectations. The slump begins the moment reality falls below expectations. The slightest gap between the two is like a pebble in their shoe. It might not be big, but it quickly moves from annoying to maddening.

As a founder you are, by necessity, a dreamer and visionary. You set an exceptionally high bar for yourself. The likely result is over-commitment on your part.

“We’re going to have an option plan within 8 weeks and I promise to give you options as soon as the plan is done.”

… 9 months later, the option plan remains on your to do list.

“Our company is going to grow and that’s going to create a ton of career opportunity for you.”

… but as the company expands, junior team members watch as you hire experienced talent rather than promoting from within.

“I’d like to hear how you think we should design the product going forward.”

… but you’ve already decided the product roadmap priorities and there is little chance you’ll change your mind.

In the moment, every one of these commitments comes from a good place. You want to provide stock options asap. You plan to help develop careers. You want input from others.

With each commitment you make, and without appreciating the long-term implications, you are setting expectations that will be missed.

As soon as an expectation-to-reality gap opens up, you’re sunk. Even if you eventually close the gap (like providing stock options in the example above), the damage is done.

Eliminating the Expectation-to-Reality Gap

Honest transparency is the answer. The single most effective way to eliminate the gap is by ensuring it doesn’t get created in the first place. Here’s what that looks like:

“It’s my intention to put an option plan in place as soon as I can. I’ve never done this before and it’s likely to take time. I know options are important to you so feel free to reach out from time to time for an update on progress.”

“All signs point to our company growing. You will get a lot of interesting growth opportunities here. Much of that will come through the work you get to do rather than frequent role changes and promotions. I’m sure we’ll hire some senior, experienced people too and we’ll all be able to learn from them.”

“I have some pretty strong thoughts on where the product needs to go next. I’d like to hear your thoughts to see if I can improve the plans that I’ve got. What advice do you have on the product roadmap?”

Keep the gap closed. Search deep for the truth of the situation so that reality ALWAYS stays above the expectations you are setting. The result will be a team that trusts and supports you. Your occasional misstep will be seen as exactly that, an honest mistake.

If you hit some bumps, contact me and I’ll share more tips to help close the gap.

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I blog to help Founder CEOs on their journey from kitchen table to 200 employees. In addition to my writing on Medium, you will find helpful articles and tools here. Be the first to receive new articles by signing up for my newsletter here.



Brent Lowe

The Scale Coach for Founder CEOs and co-author of Lead Together: The bold, brave, intentional path to scaling your business