Founders and Gurus

June 15, 2018

Communities like other organisations of people can suffer from founder syndrome, where one or more founders have more power and influence following their initial establishment, ownership and investment in the project.  The passion of the founder which was an important factor in the development of the project becomes a limiting factor.



Some of the symptoms an organisation can suffer from are:

1. Strong identity with one person rather than the whole.

2. The founder has disproportionate power over decision making.

3. Key staff and board members are selected by and are friends of the founder chosen to support rather than to move the Vison forward.

4. Professionally trained and talented recruits find they cannot contribute in an effective way as they are undermined.

5. The founder may respond to challenges over leadership by accentuating the above or they may recognise there is a problem and respond with an effective succession plan so the organisation can mature.


Graham Ellis was the founder of Bellyacres Artistic Ecovillage in Hawaii. This community had a transient membership and often a lack of residents. Graham as the founder was the public face of the community and initially took responsibility for the legal, financial and physical reality of the development of the community.   He did not want this power but found he had a serious case of founders syndrome and ended up leaving. Communities with a spiritual guru or charismatic leader are often heirarchial but stay together over their common interest. For communities that want to be non-heirarchial the development of a suitable governance structure is essential and requires commitment, training and the consultation with professionals.

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