Reboot Podcast Episode #59 – Everything Is Waiting for You – with Al Doan

The Reboot podcast showcases the heart and soul, the wins and losses, the ups and downs of startup leadership. On the show, Entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and Startup Leaders discuss with Jerry Colonna the emotional and psychological challenges they face daily as leaders.

Episode 59 // April 20,2017


Al Doan

Al Doan

Board member of MSQC and Entrepreneur

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Episode Description

Al Doan led his family’s fledgling small town quilting shop to a leading online retailer with over 450 employees in just a few short years. To the outside world, this rapid growth established Al has a wildly successful and admired leader, but behind closed doors, Al was struggling. He found himself behaving in ways contradictory to his character and struggling to feel happy and content. Sure, he was killing it as an online quilting retailer, but was this really what he wanted his life to be?

Recognizing things were not working, he reached out for help from a trusted friend and advisor. This friend connected Al with Jerry, leading to a new journey of self-inquiry and discovery for Al. A journey that has ultimately led him to walk through the fear and challenge of stepping down as CEO, to create the space for the life of his dreams to emerge.

Al Doan on Twitter | Missouri Quilt Company | Signs You Need to Leave Your Startup | Reboot CEO Bootcamp | Reboot Circles

Additional listening: 

#29 – Who’s in Your Corner – with Carrie Barry

“Everything Is Waiting For You” read by author David Whyte

Show Highlights

Top Quotes:

“When we show up with our willingness to be our authentic self, you’re met by people who are willing to be their authentic self.” – @jerrycolonna

“My support group, my social circle didn’t scale up to, uh, to handle those same problems.” – @drbillnye

“The company was a great crutch for me.” – @drbillnye

“We all have our favorite lies that we tell ourselves.” – @drbillnye

“We build these sort of exoskeletons of stuff.” – @jerrycolonna

“What happens when you’re not good at [being CEO], but you’re trying to protect your income?” – @drbillnye

“I was so obsessed with nobody thinking that I ever got tired, uh, took a break or got a reward.” – @drbillnye

“When you open yourself up, you open potentially to the pain, but you allow that love to come in.” – @jerrycolonna

“Why do we go so long without letting people in?” – @drbillnye

“I’m not a broken-hearted warrior all the time, sometimes I’m the hard-hearted warrior.” – @jerrycolonna

Key Takeaways:

Al Doan is the Chairman of the board and former CEO of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, a family business that Al helped to grow into a wildly successful online retailer with over 450 employees. He and Jerry first met through Techstars’ Nicole Glaros. Al reached out to Nicole in a time of personal struggle when he felt he was not showing up as the leader he wanted to be at work.

The tipping point for Al to ask for help came as he found himself struggling against a consultant whom he had hired to work with the company. He found himself arguing and pushing back on him, only to later deeply regret and not understand his own behavior. Following an initial conversation with Jerry, Al decided to take the leap and attend Reboot’s Tuscany Bootcamp, something out of character for him. At the bootcamp, he connected deeply with the fellow bootcampers and found a new, authentic support group– one he had not even realized he needed.

Following the bootcamp, Al continued his journey of self-discovery by joining a Circle (Reboot’s small peer groups for leaders). The work ultimately led him to the decision that the work he was doing as CEO was no longer what he wanted to do. The company was at a level where it needed a steady hand and Al’s passion lie in experimenting and trying new things.

The act of stepping down alone created space in Al’s life. It was only a few days after that he met his now fiance. For his whole life, Al has wanted a partner and family, but he reflects now that up to the decision to step back in the business his relationship with work had left little room logistically, but also mentally and spiritually for that kind of relationship in his life.

One of the reasons Al had been hesitant to step back from CEO was the nature of MSQC as a family business. Many of the employees and team members there were family and even those who were not felt like family to Al. He struggled with fears of letting people down and disappointing them on a personal level. Jerry draws Al’s attention to the fact that beneath that fear lies something else, shadow at work. Deep seeded fears about relationships, being enough and failure. It was only by doing the work and looking at this shadow that Al was able to create the space for what he truly desired to emerge and move forward.

Recently Al wrote a post on Medium called, “Signs that you need to leave your startup” drawing on his own experience. Al explains a pattern that he saw in himself and is now seeing in others, the impetus to write the post. When founders or early team members join a startup they rarely discuss how they will work and what their work relationships will be like once the company does scale. And a company with 4 team members requires many different things from a leader than a company with 450. Al points out that by the time the company reaches that growth, some leaders never take the moment to even reflect on if that different role is what they really want to do- they are fearful and too comfortable with salary and other benefits, but ultimately unhappy. Al says that at this point leaders often “throw bombs back into the business”, simply to give themselves the opportunity to look and feel like they matter. This is hurtful to the company and the leader. Micromanagement is another sign of this demise.

At the end of the day, Al shares that he has now realized that people ultimately want him to be happy and healthy. Jerry reflects to Al that what he really hears is that he is now open and willing to accept the love others are offering him.