As I mentioned in a previous blog, even the smartest folks need help from others when it comes to navigating big decisions. When you’re an entrepreneur who is emotionally involved in your business, it can be tough to overcome hubris to see things clearly. Even small, seemingly innocuous things can appear to be impossibly overwhelming when perception or emotions are involved. It’s a little like Superman: Man of Steel he may be, but the smallest piece of kryptonite can paralyze him. The strongest man in the room can be brought to his knees by something anyone else can pick up and toss over their shoulder without a care.
When you’re the leader, if you surround yourself with nothing but “yes” people, few of them will have the courage to tell you when you’re heading for danger. If you’re too busy and end up isolated from the rest of the team, you’ll have trouble finding out what’s going on in the trenches.
Instead, you need people whom you can trust to tell you the truth every time. In addition to members of the internal team, outside counsel that you trust can keep you from making mistakes because they provide much-needed checks and balances. I never make a big decision without checking with my team of outside consultants that includes lawyers, accountants, regulators, and compliance people.
Those outside consultants also include coaches and mentors. Regardless of what business you’re in, I recommend having a coach or mentor—maybe even more than one of each. But I don’t specifically mean someone with the specific title of coach or mentor. What I mean is someone who can add value to your life—because these are people who presents opportunities for you to learn from them.
Sometimes when I say coach or mentor, people think I mean engaging with someone older and wiser. Sure, that’s great, when that opportunity exists. But a coach or mentor doesn’t always have to be someone older; you can learn from other people too. For instance, I really appreciate critical feedback from even the most junior person in our organization. I believe that being able to ask candidly about what’s wrong with an idea or whether I’m on the right track makes me a better leader and makes my company better overall.
At different points in my life, I have been taken under the wings of some brilliant professionals. For instance, in my early thirties, I met Harris Rothstein, the managing partner and CEO of Rothstein Kass and Co., who let me shadow him and observe how he ran his business. He ran one of the most prolific accounting and consulting firms in the country and it was fascinating to watch him work. I enjoyed sitting with him and observing how he operated his business, and I absolutely soaked up everything I possibly could from those sessions.
To this day, I am always looking for opportunities to learn and improve myself. I often find those opportunities in people I respect in business or from my peer group.
Apart from getting a great coach or mentor, I think it’s important for entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people whose conversations leave them elevated or stimulated in some way, whether that’s intellectually or on a personal level.
I look for that in members of the team as well; I believe it’s important to have a workplace where people feel they can weigh in, and I always value and encourage constructive discourse and open dialogue. As an entrepreneur, you know that you don’t grow a business; you grow people. So if you’re not hiring people who share your mindset or the values that are important to you, what other real purpose do you have as a leader? Now, there’s only one visionary in the company, and that should be you. But when it comes to vision, your employees don’t necessarily need to have that vision, they just need to buy into it.
If you want to see what your life looks like in ten years, you don’t need a crystal ball. Just look at the people around you. Those people are the best indicator of what your future will look like. That goes for both your professional and personal time.
You may have heard the saying that you’re the average of the five people you hang out with most. Well, I’m not saying that you have to stop hanging out with old buddies or sever decades-old friendships. You can keep hanging out with friends on Saturday nights, but you’re going to need another groups of cronies to lift you up beyond just a personal level. You need people whose interest is to propel you. And you need to set aside time to meet with people who have immense drive and ambition because that’s what will pump up your spirits, give you ideas for your own life, and elevate you to the next level.
I’m not just talking the talk. I practice what I preach, and I’ve seen the results firsthand. For more than a quarter-century, I’ve been a part of a study group composed of some very sharp men. It’s more than a professional connection; we are like brothers. We operate much in the same way as those study groups that you’ve heard about or may have been a part of in school; those groups where people get together to study so they can ace an exam. Well, our goal is to ace in business and in life. We all have each other’s backs, and we bolster each other to do better, aim higher, and achieve more—on a personal and professional level.
We’re like a small community and we share those ideas that we can. But as a group and individually, we try to encourage and push one another to attain things that initially might seem impossible. And as part of such an abundant group, I’ve found that suddenly the impossible seems possible and the possible becomes probable.
Time and time again this group has inspired me to become the very best I can possibly be. That has helped me in my industry. I’ve also been fortunate to have worked with mastermind groups of people from other industries and organizations, and I’ve sat on the boards of directors of many private equity companies. These experiences have allowed me to see how other businesses operate, and they’ve given me opportunities to be more immersed in the operations and ideations of some amazingly smart people.
When you surround yourself with sharp, forward-thinking people who possess an entrepreneurial mindset, your business will grow—and so will you.