Ted Blosser is CEO and co-founder of Work Disasteran all-in-one platform that powers learning as a growth engine for today’s top organizations.
Company founders and executives often find it challenging to get advice, not because no one is willing to give it, but because it’s hard to find the best sources. Advice can come in a variety of forms — books, mentors, peers, podcasts, and social media — and determining which sources to trust is a critical but sometimes overwhelming undertaking.
Why seek advice in the first place? Because there is always room to grow. The best way to learn and expand your leadership skills is to be open to continuous learning and improvement. However, almost everyone you talk to will try to give their opinion and feedback – and digging through the rough to find the diamonds is difficult, sometimes messy work. How do you filter through the noise to find the advice that will help you move forward?
To avoid being inundated with too much advice, I follow a framework for seeking leadership advice from four different, equally important sources: mentors, trusted advisors, executive coaches, and historical figures.
Let’s look at each of these in detail:
- Mentors who know your category: It’s important to choose mentors who fall into the same category as you – people who do something similar to what you do. One of my mentors is someone I trust very much and is in the same category as us, which is selling to HR. I can learn from his direct first-hand experience and immediately apply it in my career. Another mentor of mine is a former sales leader I used to work for. Like me, he works in the technology industry and can provide advice that is relevant and contextual. It’s critical to connect with mentors who can empathize with your challenges and provide tactical feedback on how to overcome them to achieve your goals.
- Reliable advisors: When you run into tough issues – which you always will – it’s important to have a trusted advisor who can act as a sounding board and provide guidance and support. These trusted advisors don’t necessarily have to be in the same category as you, but should be able to understand the context you’re in (for example, many of my trusted advisors are in SaaS). Build a network of these trusted advisors. While they may not be as close to the issues as you are, they understand the gist and can provide unbiased feedback.
- Executive coaches: Executive coaches are extremely important because they specialize in analyzing problems and emotions and providing alternative viewpoints to help you think about challenging situations and dilemmas in new ways. Unlike mentors and trusted advisors, executive coaches are on your payroll, and you usually meet with them regularly to work on overall goals, such as developing a specific leadership skill, how to better manage your team, or learning how to approach problems from different angles. I’ve been working with an executive coach for about six months now and I’ve found the investment to be invaluable.
- Historical Figures: As the saying goes, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Conversely, there is much to be learned from historical figures worth repeating! Historical figures worth studying may be contemporaries or may have lived hundreds of years ago, and all can provide insight into how best to approach your work and career, overcome difficult challenges, and succeed in the face of adversity.
Some of the important historical features I’ve studied are Henry Ford, Estee Lauder, and Thomas Edison. I find information about these people in podcasts and books. For example, the Founders podcast shows various historical figures who founded successful companies.
Many books are also extremely enlightening: Robert Uygur’s The Ride of Your Life: Lessons from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and behind the cloud, by Co-Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, have proven to be valuable resources.
There is an endless supply of stories about innovative leaders from which to draw advice and ideas that you can apply to your personal leadership journey.
No matter how strong a leader you think you are, no one is an island. With these four types of cheerleaders in your corner, you’ll have the guidance, support, and trusted advice you need to make wise decisions and be an inspiration to the teams you lead.