By Kent Lewis, an EO Portland member and president and founder of Anvil Media, Inc.
As a long-time entrepreneur, I’ve had an opportunity to advise a variety of startup companies over the years. In that time, I’ve noticed common themes among fledgling business owners (and executives). One of the recent challenges I’ve faced, is being an effective mentor and advisor. Most entrepreneurs do not have training or experience in how to be coached effectively. The following article outlines three distinct strategies to get the most from your business mentors and advisors: listen, communicate & act.
Before we dive into the three strategies, let me set the stage. As an advisor to my own digital marketing agencies, Anvil & Formic Media, I’ve experienced a unique feeling of transforming from the role of boss to parent. In the traditional manager role, you are expected to dictate direction to employees. Successful parents, however, typically educate and empower the child’s growth without being a dictator.
The challenge with the new parental role is that both parties must adjust mindset and expectations, which isn’t easy. Going from boss to parent is like training a child to learn to ride a bike and being limited in the ability to guide and protect the child from hitting a tree down the street. Do you put too much protection as to restrict movement? Keep them only in the driveway and limit their training? Put your hands on the bars to steer them clear of the tree or let them hit the tree and learn from experience the hard way? Let’s explore how this metaphor translates.
In business, it is sometimes difficult to truly listen to input, even from business advisors. As a hungry new entrepreneur or executive, you want to make big wins early, make a mark and earn respect from your team. Unfortunately, if you lack experience, it is easy to make mistakes, which leads to criticism. To move the ball forward, you must be both open-minded to new ideas yet be sufficiently thick-skinned so as to not take negative feedback personally. It is also helpful to ask questions and reflect on situations and possibilities before acting. In the bicycle metaphor, a child is eager to learn and please, and be determined to ride down the street prior to receiving proper training. The result may be direct contact with that tree. We don’t expect children to have key traits of a successful leader or business owner, but we should expect it from an adult.
I’ve found it extremely difficult to advise an entrepreneur if they are not keeping me in the loop regarding the business. I can’t advise on what I don’t know. While entrepreneurs typically wear too many hats (sales, marketing, operations, service, etc.) and are time-constrained, they should always make time to communicate key changes or updates regarding the direction of the business. As an entrepreneur, you need to master the proper velocity and relevance of timely communications. That includes properly framing issues, opportunities or questions as well as justifying critical decisions. As a parent, we hope our child learning to ride a bike is able to communicate questions, fears (about hitting trees) and milestones (look Ma, no hands!).
As a long-time member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, I’ve been trained on Gestalt Protocol, which essentially means I’m able to guide entrepreneurs through my experience, rather than by giving specific advice. The reason for this approach is that if a business owner takes my advice and it doesn’t work, they resent me for the failure. If they ignore my advice, on the other hand, then I’m offended. Gestalt doesn’t always work, particularly when advisors or mentors are paid to provide advice. Regardless, taking action on specific input, advice or decisions is essential to earning trust from a mentor. If your child ignores your suggestion (or directive) to put on a helmet, or disregards your advice to watch out for the tree, who is at fault when the child hits the tree? Hopefully, they will end up a $10,000 winner on America’s Funniest Home Videos instead of riding in a wheelchair the remainder of their life.
In the metaphor of the parent teaching their child to ride a bike, following the above methodology will help the child avoid the tree without you the parent having to knock the child off the bike or cut down the tree. Put on your helmet and let’s get started!
Previously posted on Business2community.com.