The Wisdom of Listening

Posted: July 22, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in Leadership, People, Startup

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change” – Confucius

For those of us in the middle, we know that change is no longer an option, but a required course to survive and thrive. If your company is growing quickly, you may feel your whole culture change every three to six months. So what can you do to stay ahead of the curve?

“As a an entrepreneur, don’t start from scratch. Set up a good support network to share (or beg, borrow and steal) good ideas, test your assumptions and hold your feet to the fire. A common comment from startup entrepreneurs is that they have no one to talk to about their issues. The employees all come to them with their problems and concerns – but the business owner needs a friendly ear.

Let’s quickly look at the common sources for advice: key employees, spouses, family and friends. Key employees can’t give you the objectivity you need – the “can’t see the forest for the trees” syndrome. Yes, you need to communicate with your key employees, but you need another source to test new ideas with a fresh perspective. Spouses can be helpful, but are rarely objective – and why should they be? Your family and friends may be helpful. My dad has always been a great source of advice and counsel – and being retired in Pinehurst,NC – he always had great perspectives for my challenges. Yet, he would always recommend that I seek some local advice as well.

Your board of directors or advisors deliver different viewpoints if you have done a good job of recruiting the right folks. If you don’t have one, you might consider forming a small group to give you direct feedback on your plans and aspirations. Set a formal meeting time to present your business plan. Do it offsite and provide a comfortable atmosphere to discuss your company. For the cost of a dinner, you’ll probably get a million dollars worth of advice. After the meeting, you now have a pool of interested people to help you along the way. Clay Mathile, a successful entrepreneur and founder of Iams Pet Food and Aileron said “If I owned a hot dog stand, I would still have  board of directors.”

Our local universities offer the business owner education and corporate training opportunities. They all offer courses in executive education to hone your skills. They also give you a class of peers and an instructor who can be a resource long after the class has ended.

The Entrepreneur’s Organization provides forums for their members to meet and discuss issues and help each other. Vistage and the Chamber of Commerce have similar roundtable programs that vary in format, but accomplish similar aims.

On a more personal level, an entrepreneur can engage an executive coach to help bring perspective to their role. The executive coaching industry is growing rapidly and some find it extremely useful to have a professional feedback mechanism in place.

The ancient concept of mentoring and apprenticeship can deliver excellent results. Finding a mentor can be simple – find someone you think can help you and go ask for their advice. If you can get over the fear of a cold call, you’ll find most mentors would be flattered.

Bottom line:  find some friendly ears and LISTEN!

Bill Cunningham is the CEO of and shop foreman at the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association.

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