You know how important your network is for your new company. Your network will help you find answers, share ideas, and solve problems. Not all networks are created equal, though. If all your network has to offer is the latest fashionable business trend from an overrated blog post, you need a better network.
A network of mentors and facilitators can help you make the right decisions and take the right actions to accomplish your audacious schemes. Here are five people whose help, advice, and examples are critical to you.
The Anti-Mentor is the most valuable member of your Five. This fictitious person is the compound of every bad boss or weak executive you’ve worked with. Your Anti-Mentor has been teaching you important anti-lessons for most of your career. It has shown you how to be an unethical, insecure, uninspiring, risk-averse, self-promoting, spirit-killing dictator. Frequently, when faced with a tough decision, I turn to my Anti-mentor first. Whatever my Anti-Mentor would do, I don’t do. In fact, I regularly do the exact opposite.
Anti-Mentors teach us things such as:
- Always focus on this quarter.
- Build a disunified, under-achieving executive team.
- Fire people to hit bonus targets.
- Surround yourself with yes-men.
- Buy and kill great little companies because, you know, “Acquisition Plan.”
- Align whole departments to policies and processes, not values and strategy.
- Manage through coercion and fear while marginalizing high-performers.
Make a “not-to-do” list of all the things your Anti-Mentor taught you. You’ll (almost) develop a sense of gratitude for the training you’ve (unwittingly) been given.
You have exciting plans. You stay up late thinking about all the good you’re going to do, and all the money you’ll make as a result. It’s beautiful and inspiring.
The cold truth is that you’ll experience some failures along the way. You need someone who knows what to do before it’s too late and what to do after it’s too late. Failure’s lessons are as instructive as they are painful. Someone who has failed expertly can maximize the instruction and minimize the pain.
Find a Failure-Turned-Winner. We’re talking about someone who has failed and then succeeded. Let them save you from what you don’t know.
The Big Dreamer
On your way to success, you’re going to run into a lot of people who don’t seem to want you to succeed. They are pessimistic and negative, and being around them makes you start to second-guess yourself. (In fact, sometimes even your inner voice can turn against you!) These are not the people who will keep your fire lit.
You need a Big Dreamer. The Big Dreamer will help you think big thoughts. She’s a creative, visionary thought partner who will raise your sights. She’ll help you stay excited for the limitless possibilities, always leaving you invigorated and optimistic.
Big Dreamers could also ruin you, so you need a Realist. The Realist is someone you can trust to keep your feet on the ground when you have your head in the clouds.
At some point you’re going to get excited and start running numbers:
If I do X, that will be $20K per month. That’s $250 Gr per year.
Then if I can do Y, that will be another $200 large.
Sweet! Then I’ll do Z and bring in another $300K!
That’s almost $800,000! I’m gonna be rich!
(Note the generous rounding.)
Your Realist is going to make you justify those numbers. He’s going to make you qualify each opportunity, and get clear on what it will take to land it. He’s not going to tell you that it won’t work, but he is going to make you explain how it will work.
The Realist is not as fun as the Big Dreamer, but he’ll save your bacon. Listen to him.
Connectors are a special breed with talent for linking people who need each other. When you tell a Connector about a challenge you’re facing, they will immediately think of a person, a company, or a resource that can help, and they’ll connect you on the spot. Connectors do this constantly because they love to do it.
The only thing better than a Connector is a Super Connector. Tim Kang was my Super Connector when I worked in Seoul. He had a saying: “If you know two people in Seoul, you know everybody.” Tim knew everybody. He connected me to important people many times, and he connected people to me just as often.
If you can get a Super Connector in your corner, you’re really fortunate. Take good care of your Super Connector, and return the favor by being a connection resource for them.
Building Your Five
Most of us are not naturally good at building our Five. We tend to put it off until we suddenly need them, and then we start looking for networking events. There’s a better way that doesn’t actually require much extra effort.
First, learn more about everyone you know. Great people are hiding among your friends and acquaintances who either need your help or who can help you. Strike up conversations that focus on them, not you. Engage them in topics that they love to talk about. You’ll appreciate them more, you’ll learn about how you can help each other, and you’ll gain access to each others’ networks.
Second, serve before you ask. You want others to be generous with their time and knowledge. Are you generous with yours?
Third, ask. It’s ok to ask someone to help or to make an introduction. People want to help. Just don’t be selfish or greedy.
Finally, when someone helps you, be grateful. Do something with the help they provide. Tell them about the results and thank them. Then pay it forward. This is the reward that your Five will want.
When it comes to building your Five, this truism comes to mind: “The best time to plant a shade tree is twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a shade tree is today.” Start building your Five today.
Matt Wagner believes in people. He is a Silicon Valley veteran focused on aligning culture, strategy, and innovation so that everyone can grow and thrive. He has worked for companies from 5 to 50,000 employees on 5 continents involving eleven mergers and acquisitions.