People sometimes pay me to tell them what I think. Do they listen? Sometimes, but not as often as I’d like. Still, they’re seasoned executives. It’s their call to make. It’s those who are new to the game, can’t afford it, or don’t think they need it that usually need advice the most. That’s right, I’m talking about you.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to solicit work. I’m actually sort of maxed out at the moment. Just thought I’d dish out a little free advice that’s probably worth a lot more than I’m getting for it, not that you asked. My advice is this: get some real advice, some real feedback. And when I say real, I mean from accomplished people.
Here’s the thing. Everyone has mentors, advisors, people they turn to when they’re stuck and need help. Even great entrepreneurs and business leaders. That probably had a lot to do with them becoming successful in the first place.
Bill Gates counts Warren Buffett as a mentor.
Steve Jobs often sought advice from former Intel chairman Andy Grove, among others. And he was friends with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.
Jobs, in turn, took Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin under his wing. That is, until they launched Android and became competitors while Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat on Apple’s board. That was a bit awkward I bet.
Jobs also advised Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff on several occasions.
While at Stanford, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel was mentored by Sierra Ventures managing director Peter Wendell and Intuit founder Scott Cook. Now that he’s raised more than half a billion dollars in venture funding, Spiegel has a whole cast of VCs to bounce ideas off of and get advice from.
I’m a very big fan of entrepreneurs and executives getting advice from seasoned veterans who’ve already been there and done that. Coaches, not so much. Why the bias? Experience. You want to seek advice from those who’ve been in the same boat as you and successfully navigated those treacherous waters.
I’ve gotten great advice that really made a difference from all sorts of strange characters over the years: a close friend, my father-in-law, a boss or two, peers, VCs who sat on my companies’ boards, and of course a few highly-accomplished former executives I’ve met along the way.
While a coach might be good for fine-tuning your leadership and communication skills or helping you figure out what to do with your life, when it comes to thorny issues that make or break careers, startups, and companies, I seriously doubt if a pseudo-shrink with a certificate can do you much good.
If you’re putting together a business and need feedback on the concept or investor pitch, you definitely want someone who can help you refine your strategy and positioning, someone to provide savvy advice so you can avoid common pitfalls and make smart decisions. That takes someone who’s done it before.
Same thing if you’re looking to take your company to the next level.
Judging by the emails I get, many of you are still trying to find yourself and simply don’t know where to look. I tell everyone the same thing. Find a field that interests you in some way, get out there and work, and develop a marketable skill. That’s how you’ll most likely find the one thing you do best and mentors to help you make the most of it.
That’s what worked for me and just about everyone else I’ve ever known. For the record, I can also tell you what doesn’t work. What you don’t want to do is sit at home and imagine you can figure everything out from books, blogs, and social networks. Maybe you can but I seriously doubt it.
Go out, do stuff, get feedback, rinse and repeat. That’s what works. It’s called experience. Get some. And for God’s sake, get some real advice while you’re at it. That’s really good advice, guaranteed.