Being a small business owner – or indeed any kind of leader – can be a lonely activity. Oftentimes, as a leader, you’re staring down problems that weren’t exactly covered in your school curriculum. Maybe you’re a solopreneur and have no team to turn to. Or perhaps you feel you are precisely the person your team expects to have all the answers.
How do you navigate this without becoming overwhelmed?
In recent years, the idea of mentorship for leaders has taken firm hold. We’ve written about it here before. Indeed, it’s such a powerful idea that it stretches beyond professional guidance, bleeding into life, spiritual, physical and personal development.
This makes sense. After all, life and work has become increasingly integrated. Fewer of us put forward a “professional veneer” in the office, instead finding workplaces where we can be ourselves. So, why wouldn’t the notion of mentorship be similarly without boundaries?
Tim Ferriss’s latest book is Tribe of Mentors. It’s not aimed squarely at small business owners, nor is it specifically business-related. You’re not going to find specific advice for the pain points of small business ownership. It is, nonetheless, a great book to spend time with. A great book to give or receive. You’ll draw strength and focus from its pages.
If Ferriss is new to you, let me give you the skinny: He’s one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People” and an early-stage tech investor/advisor. He is also the author of four #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers: The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Chef, and Tools of Titans.
His podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, which has exceeded 200 million downloads and been selected for “Best of iTunes” three years running. And, if you’re a listener, you’ll know FreshBooks is a proud sponsor of The Tim Ferriss Show.
Tribe of Mentors is structured for the busy reader. It can be navigated your own way. You can pick a single question and dip into the many different perspectives on it, or bounce around reading different mentors. The chapters don’t have to be read in a linear fashion and that makes it a great companion for time-crunched business owners.
Throughout, Ferriss shares favourite quotes, references related podcast episodes and equips the reader with ways to dive deeper into select topics.
In Tribe of Mentors, Ferriss presents 130+ mentors with 11 questions and asks them to answer the 3-5 that most excite or resonate with them. From iconic entrepreneurs to elite athletes, from artists to billionaire investors, their short profiles can help inspire, enlighten and motivate you. If you’re like me, you’ll also want to consider your own answers to these questions or even ask your own mentors!
To give you a taste of what’s in store, those 11 questions include:
The mentors featured include many recognizable names such as Debbie Millman, Ben Stiller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Ashton Kutcher, Tony Hawk and Neil Gaiman, to name just a few.
But there are also new names to be discovered and to dig deep into. It’s an eclectic, intriguing and entertaining roundup of perspectives and insights.
Different ideas will resonate with each reader at different times, and in different ways. The beauty of a book like this is that an idea or answer that seems at first glance simple, or just mildly provoking, might become poignant and resonant at a second glance.
As I dipped in and out of the book over the course of the last week, many quotes stayed with me. Here are just three that registered strongly for me right now and that I think are important for small business owners:
Temple Grandin (author and speaker, professor or animal science) on working with difficult individuals [insert your own difficult clients, stakeholders, co-collaborators etc.]: “I developed the concept of “project loyalty.” My job is to do a good job and make a project work. A bad plant manager is an obstacle I have to work around. The concept of project loyalty has helped keep my going and successfully complete my projects.”
Gary Vaynerchuk (CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia) on saying “no”. The power (and necessity) of saying no has been covered a lot in recent years. But while Vaynerchuk advocates for saying no, he still leaves room for the magic of yes. “One of the great issues for anybody who starts gaining success is they become crippled by opportunity, and the no’s becoming imperatively important versus the yeses. On the flip side… I still need a healthy balance of 20 percent yeses to things that seem dumb, because I believe in serendipity, and that’s an important balance people struggle with.”
Scott Belsky (venture partner at Benchmark) on what great opportunities look like – a reminder that the best idea doesn’t always present itself in the most razzle dazzle packaging! “Great opportunities never have ‘great opportunity’ in the subject line. Whether you’re looking for the best new job, client partner or new business opportunity, it is unlikely to lure you when you first see it. In fact, the best opportunities may not even catch your attention at first.”
I too have my own humble tribe of mentors. My parents continue to be mentors. I exchange long, handwritten letters with one of my university professors. I have a mentor who’s a female executive at a tech company. And there are past peers and bosses who shine like lighthouses when I feel tossed around on turbulent tides.
I don’t really compartmentalize my mentors – I might ask my professor or my parents for their perspective on work, even though they have limited understanding of what my job entails. I find sometimes the perspectives from “outside the bubble” as, if not more, valuable that those from inside.
My advice? Assemble your crew. You don’t need celebrities and acclaimed gurus. Let your mentors be eclectic and don’t pigeon-hole what advice you should seek from which mentor. Look for mentors who are intelligent and accomplished, yes. But also decent, unbiased, candid and kind.
Absorb it all. But always, of course, process advice critically. Is it kind, is it fair, does it feel authentic to “you” as well as logically correct? These are some of the filters I put my own mentors’ advice.
And I suppose, in that way, we are all also our own mentors with our own inner compass as well.