I'm sure these three leaders share many things in common, but I've noticed that when these names appear in a headline, readership increases substantially. This made me rethink the expectations leaders are setting and how many opportunities we're missing by aspiring to be the next Steve Jobs. In reality, our best resources could be just a few miles away. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and Mark Zuckerberg have reached a status many of us will never know.
However, the small-business community will drop everything at the mention of these names. As much as I respect Mark Zuckerberg, I don't know how much he could help me grow my business. He's on a completely different path and encounters unique situations in his industry that I can't always relate to.
I've learned that the best mentors -- or people to look up to -- are closer than you think. Some of the most valuable lessons I've learned stem from interactions with the people around me or reading content from people who are a couple steps ahead of me, not from distant celebrities.
The dangers of idolizing.
It's natural to idolize wildly successful people. I had a man crush on Mark Cuban for years and aspired to reach his level of fame. When I finally met him, I came to a disappointing realization: He couldn't have a conversation without somebody grabbing him for a picture or judging his every move. At that moment, I realized I should probably look up to people who have lives that relate more to my own.
For example, Brant Bukowsky is an entrepreneur who lives in my city and cares about helping entrepreneurs, just like Cuban. He's grown an amazing small business, Veterans United, into one of the most successful VA mortgage companies in the country. When I say "successful," not only does the company do well and have happy customers, but its employees also love working there. [Disclosure: I know this because my wife works there, and trust me, I would know if she wasn't happy.]
He and his brother established this company in Columbia, Missouri. Yes, that's right, Columbia, and they did it using resources and backgrounds similar to mine. Why would I instead idolize somebody in the middle of Silicon Valley, a completely different world than one I'd ever live in?
If you're constantly obsessing over the lives of the business elite, it's hard to become the leader you're meant to be. When defining the business professional I want to become, following someone like Mark Cuban won't be as valuable as interacting with people in my own circle. I'm not saying you should never dream big or read an article from an industry icon -- celebrity entrepreneurs are in the spotlight for a reason.
However, I do worry that readers will continue to flock toward the industry bigwigs and miss out on content from lesser-known entrepreneurs who might have real solutions for the problems they're facing. Leaders don't need instantly recognizable names for you to learn something valuable from their experiences.
Before you turn an ear to celebrity idols for advice, look around you. Your best mentors could be within arm's reach. One of my biggest mentors is my co-founder. I read every piece of content she writes, and I always learn something new. And this most certainly applies to the Inc. community as well. Be careful not to dismiss the many talented small-business owners contributing to this publication and consistently sharing their wealth of knowledge.
Pay attention to those on a similar path, and take advantage of having these knowledgeable people around you. I think you'll learn -- as I did -- that when you start listening to those closer to your own goals and stop idolizing, you become less aspirational and become a stronger and more grounded industry leader.