It may seem impossible as entrepreneurs to protect our own vision that inspired us to launch our company while also being coachable, but both are vital to our success.
While I still have a lot to learn along my own startup journey within APPCityLife and Hautepreneurs, here are few things that have helped me embrace both of these dueling demands made on startup founders.
What Does it Mean to be Coachable?
What does it actually mean to be a coachable entrepreneur?
When the sports industry describes an athlete as being coachable, words like "absolute trust" and "even if it doesn't make sense" help explain the type of relationship needed between coach and athlete for there to be positive results.
But most successful entrepreneurs came up with their game-changing ideas, not by trusting someone else's vision, but by rejecting conventional wisdom - and then embarking on a path that likely appears foolhardy and impossible to others.
The true challenge for most entrepreneurs is heeding that internal compass along with outside guidance - and in discerning between useful and dangerous advice.
Changing Cacophony Into a Collective Voice
While It can be quite gratifying to discover that our startup generates excitement and support from those around us, the downside is that we can become overwhelmed by the flood of divergent ideas, feedback and advice that comes our way.
Without structured processes in place to manage input, the feedback becomes cacophony, and we end up feeling like a pinball that is constantly thrust in varying and opposing directions.
When we establish official channels of engagement and define how we interact with our community's collective voice, we can encourage participation through official programs like brand ambassadors or beta user groups. The perks of early access to new products or features can become a reward for engaged community members, and their feedback helps identify and address issues before a product or service is released to the public.
Good Feedback or Unsolicited Advice?
I've come to learn that much like shucking corn, entrepreneurs can harvest useful feedback when we peel away the phrases that make it sound like unsolicited (and often unwanted ) advice.
The next time some begins a sentence with a phrase like "...what you should do, if it was my company, I would, I think you're making a big mistake, you should change your...", try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of closing down. You might discover that the comments that come after those phrases might actually spark a new idea, reveal a new vertical or provide new insight into your targeted demographic.
Avoid the Kumbaya Club
Because entrepreneurship is often the process of creating something from nothing, most founders encounter a great deal of push back before deciding to move forward with turning their idea into a business.
In addition to the doubts expressed by others, early entrepreneurs can also struggle with imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that as founders, we have quite often assembled an impressive arsenal to combat the negativity and doubts which can erode a startup's resolve and mindset.
But if our well-meaning efforts to combat naysayers results in our own Kumbaya Club, we will not grow as leaders and will likely fail in our efforts. We need to have relationships we can trust, but they must include those who can be honest with us for the right reasons - who can help us address our own areas of weakness to become more effective leaders.
Not All Advice is Created Equal
Before you engage with someone as a mentor or advisor, do your homework. Here are a few things to consider:
- What have they done that makes them qualified to help you?
- Do they have a proven track record - and the success - to ensure the advice you receive is based in experience, not theory?
- Do other entrepreneurs speak highly of them?
- Are they asking for something in return - like stock, a board position, etc. - and is it commensurate with the value of their reputation, network, and time they're bringing to your team?
- Are there warning bells that you're ignoring because their celebrity is making you question your gut reaction?
You have an obligation to be very selective about whose advice you trust, and if you surround yourself with high quality individuals who are helping you for the right reasons and who have the right backgrounds, they can help you navigate through the murky waters entrepreneurship. But it is also your responsibility to guard against toxic relationships which can lead you astray and take up so much of your time in managing the dynamics of the relationship that you become distracted from your primary goal of building your startup.
It is possible to be a strong leader with clear vision and to also be coachable. When you can find the right balance, you and your entire team will benefit because of it.