Failure is an option in entrepreneurship. In fact, it's a required step on the path to success. Without failure, you can't really figure out how to push ahead, how to change, and how to succeed. Interestingly, one of the dynamics at play in this process of failure on the path to success must always involve a smart and capable guidance counselor.

Wait--does this mean going back to business school?

Not really. Finding a mentor is important when you are leading a business because that is the person you need in close proximity to help you through failure. There will be times when you will need to rely on this person's wisdom and experience. Instead of figuring out how to get through a crisis on your own, this person will be the one who supports you.

I'm amazed how many entrepreneurs don't have a mentor. They make a conscious decision to do things on their own. When problems arise, and they always do when you are starting something new and novel, these leaders decide to problem-solve without a roadmap.

I used to do that. I spent years thinking my ideas, my problem-solving abilities, my answers, and my strategies were the only ones that mattered, and that everyone else was not as enlightened. I used to react to problems with a lot of stress--and a lot of ego. That's a deadly combination. It isolated me from the crowd and it forced me to rely on a smattering of knowledge (e.g., my own). It meant I wasn't able call in for emergency help because I was too proud to admit when I didn't have the solution.

Yet, every problem you have in business, every single one, is a problem someone has already had before and has probably already solved in some way.

I'm thinking of the guy who makes a mobile app or some new online portal and then hits a brick wall when a troll starts targeting the company with vicious online comments. The common reaction is to cave (get it--to the troll?). You pull back and don't post on your company blog as often. You hide until the troll moves on to another victim.

Or, another common reaction is to strike back--to find this person in other social media channels and do your own version of a troll impression.

What would your mentor say? If you don't have one, you will never know.

One important lesson to learn is that, in some ways, it doesn't even matter what your mentor says. What matters is that you have someone who can commiserate with you, who can listen and give you feedback. Maybe you don't take the advice. Maybe you decide the feedback isn't quite right for this situation. That's OK. Mentoring is designed to be a feedback loop--you can take the advice or not but at least you have someone who can listen to the problem. In countless situations, I've talked to mentors about a problem and I've heard myself say the answer out loud--the solution I ended up using.

The alternative is a hapless void of self-analysis and trying to think of a solution on your own. You look in the mirror trying to find the answer when there's someone in the same room who can point out an obvious problem. Maybe you are the problem. Maybe it is someone on your team. Maybe the problem was unavoidable. You have to find another vantage point to problems or they tend to circle and compress into a black hole. You have to find another set of eyes or you will have to rely only on perspective.

The good news? As humans, we react differently to problems when we have support. We fail differently. We know there is someone waiting to catch us. We lean into the support in a more conscious effort to learn, taking the hand of someone who can lead us through the failure in a way that creates an opportunity. We emerge ready for another challenge.

Published on: May 13, 2015
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