Mark is incredibly smart. He's sharp. He's educated. He pattern matches like nobody's business. Show him a problem -- any problem -- and he can quickly solve it.

Yet for a long time he was, in his own words, a terrible entrepreneur

What does he credit to helping him turn the startup corner? The day he stopped only asking people in his network for advice on growth strategies, attracting financing, or brand positioning.

And started asking for advice on how to manage people.

Turns out his intuition is backed up by science. According to a recently published National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, entrepreneurs who received advice from peers with an active approach to managing people -- like consistently setting goals and tracking performance, providing frequent feedback, and coordinating across people, teams, and tasks -- grew 28 percent larger and were 10 percentage points less likely to fail

Makes sense, especially in startups where the founder (and his or her employees) may bring a ton of product or service expertise to the table, but relatively little leadership experience or skill.

Many young startups are knowledge intensive, with their key inputs being their employees, which implies management of human capital will have an outsized effect on performance.

A classic example is a tech startup; while you might be an amazing coder with an outstanding idea, that doesn't mean you know how to manage the employees you will inevitably need. 

Yet the analogy extends much more broadly. You may be a great carpenter, but that doesn't mean you know how to run a job site. You may be a great physician, but that doesn't mean you know how to run a practice. 

If that sounds like you, how can you overcome your lack of leadership experience and increase your chances of entrepreneurial success? 

Easy: Get regular advice from what the researchers call an "active" advisor.

Someone who, instead of taking a relatively hands-off approach to leadership, is the type of leader who "consistently sets goals, provides feedback, and coordinates individuals and teams across various tasks." 

In short, someone who may not rank particularly high on the visionary scale... but who can definitely keep their (employee) trains running on time.

And don't worry that a lack of formal leadership training -- classes, seminars, degree programs, etc. -- will hold you back. 

As the researchers write:

(Although) significant recent literature has focused on formal training as a mechanism for disseminating management knowledge, we provide causal evidence that less formal advice from peers can be just as crucial for firm performance.

Further, we document that formal training can limit the effect of advice, for better or worse. (My italics.)

The last point is interesting. Sure, a little formal education can help you separate the wheat (encourage remote employees to communicate less, not more) from the chaff (to keep everyone on track, hold more meetings).

But at the same time, thinking you already know the answer can cause you to ignore new information. As Jeff Bezos says, a sign of high intelligence is the willingness to change your mind.

So if you're starting a business -- or just thinking about starting a business -- by all means ask smart people for advice. Ask about financing. Ask about brand strategy. Ask about how to achieve product-market fit. 

And then make sure you ask for advice on how to manage and lead people.

Because the better you can do that, the more likely your startup is to succeed.

Or, for that matter, any business.