It’s said that no one person can succeed on their own. This is especially true in entrepreneurship; anyone building a business needs help from time to time.
That’s why advisory boards can be worth their weight in gold. I’m a huge advocate of surrounding yourself with experienced people who can guide you as you grow your business. Personally, I belong to two peer groups for entrepreneurs, I have a business coach and I regularly consult a group that I call my MBA—Mentorship Board of Advisors—which is comprised of people whom I admire greatly all for different reasons.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. Aligning yourself with advisors can truly be the difference between mediocrity and success in business—provided they’re the right kind of advisors.
Some advisors—even those with great intentions—can actually hold your business back. So how can you tell whether an advisor is a dud? In my experience, behavioral traits will tell you more than a resume. These five personality types are types to steer clear of.
1. The Congenial Buddy
If you are truly driven, you’re probably not in business to make friends. You want advisors who aren’t afraid to challenge you, disagree with you and/or tell you your idea is ridiculous. Your easygoing pal from way back when may be too timid to provide anything other than platitudes, and those won’t help your business. If you want someone to smile, pat you on the back and tell you how wonderful you are, visit a grandparent. If you want someone who will poke holes in your theory, warn you of your blind spots and challenge you to greatness, then find an advisor who is willing to stand up to you.
2. The Misaligned Do-Gooder
When I was just starting out, I attended a reception at which mentors could mingle with potential protégés. It was a frustrating night, as I didn’t think any of the mentors in the room were of the caliber that I was looking for. These were all well-intentioned business veterans, but none could give me the specific guidance I’d need. Remember, just because someone is willing to offer you advice does not mean that they should. Make sure your advisors have the experience and skills that will help you achieve your specific goals. Don’t waste your time with the others.
3. The Eternal Pessimist
As entrepreneurs, you tend aim for the fences; some may call you eternal optimists. While you need advisors to keep your expectations in line, those who only focus on the negative will paralyze you. Negativity is contagious; if someone in your circle is always pointing to the doom-and-gloom, you, too, may start to believe you’re destined for failure. That’s why you want realists—not pessimists—on your advisory board.
4. The Know-It-All
The best leaders are what author Liz Wiseman calls “multipliers”—those who challenge others to greatness. At the opposite end of the spectrum are “diminishers,” know-it-all types who believe themselves to be the smartest people in the room. These people—while undoubtedly wise and successful—drain the intelligence and innovation out of those around them. The last person you need advising you is someone who’s only on board feed their own ego.
5. The Commitment-Phobe
It should go without saying that you want your advisors to be committed to your success. This is probably the single biggest challenge in building your advisory board, as the smart, successful, motivating advisors you seek are probably pretty busy. But don’t be tempted to enlist an advisor who will only take your calls when he or she feels like it, or who won’t agree to be in it for the long haul—at least, not if your goal is to gain strategic help. I’ve had brilliant advisors who’ve left me feeling unfulfilled simply because they weren’t truly committed to helping me. (Note: In areas in which you need specific advice only sporadically—like, say, when filing a patent—a less-than-fully-committed advisor is probably fine.)
Research any successful business leader and you will find that each had advisors helping them achieve greatness. If you don’t have an advisory board, I suggest you start building one today. It might be the most valuable decision you make—as long as you’re careful about who you include.
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Andy Buyting understands what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, having owned several businesses during his career. Developer of the Hiring Right Recruiting System and a Certified Gazelles International Business Coach, he provides strategic direction and growth tools for companies looking to go from good to great.