One of the most compelling articles ever written about CEO failures has many lessons for Founder/CEO's as well. In June 1999 Fortune Magazine published the article: Why CEOs Fail? The lesson was that CEO failure was generally not caused by a disagreement between the CEO and his/her board, or even a failure of strategy. More often, failure was a product of relying too long on key employees who just weren't cutting it. The CEO's failure was the refusal or unwillingness to get the right people into (or probably more important - out of) the right positions due to personal relationships that had grown between the CEO and his/her team.
Attributing the same characteristics to the founder/CEO seems to be all too appropriate. Often the Founder brings family (husbands, wives, brothers, parents), close childhood or school friends, or others with whom the founder has had an other than pure business relationship, in as early trusted employees. No one would argue that it is hard to sever those relationships; doing so might have severe implications for their outside-of-the office life. However, the implications of maintaining these relationships beyond what is good for the company can be critical to an early stage venture's prospects.
We've seen dozens of ventures that have either failed or been critically wounded by the presence of fairly nice but incompetent friends and family holding positions of authority. Not only does the lack of competence in their particular field hinder the company's success, but it also has a detrimental impact on other employees who have only their objective performance on which to rely.
Certainly the writers of this article (now gone on to fame as pop business book writers) were not focusing on founders when they wrote this piece. However, founders should pay close attention to the issues identified and realize the implications of a more-than-business relationship in the workplace.