Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, December 2, 2019
Finding a mentor is a basic puzzle that the entrepreneur needs to solve. While it is clear what the entrepreneur gets (if the mentor is not an idiot), it is not always explicit what the mentor gets. And that brings me to a story.
A CEO comes to see me for advice, and I willingly give some. It turned out to be good advice, (dumb luck I guess). We slowly defaulted into an unspoken mentor relationship. After several sessions, she asked once again for another meeting. My response was “no more free time,” we need to come to an understanding of some kind. In short order, my mentee said no thanks, not interested, but by the way, you did a great job and thank you for all your wonderful guidance — and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I noodled on this experience a while. On the one hand, I had started the work without any clear expectations, but with a vague belief that if the relationship blossomed, I would “get something” — maybe cash, maybe stock, maybe a Reuben sandwich. By the same token, the woman in question had never discussed any kind of quid pro quo (not touching that line with a 10-foot pole) with respect to my work or compensation. Fair is fair, and I had no right to be affronted by her decision.
One of my favorite books is “Give and Take” by Adam Grant. It is an off-the-chart must-read. Grant is brilliantly analytical and persuasive, and he points out that “givers” make more money than “takers,” with at least a dozen real-world examples. But it is not just more money; he proves that you do better on all fronts, in all aspects of your life. It is a way of living and this concept has become famous and is known as “Adam Granting.” Maybe I should send 535 copies of the book to Congress?
The next problem for this week is how to hire, specifically, top-level leaders. Sam Walker, author of “The Captain Class,” makes a persuasive argument that the “most effective way to interview somebody for a leadership position is not to.” The accepted standard process starts first with a resume, and then next comes the interview where you sit down and see if you can figure him/her out. But Walker makes a strong case that “we shouldn’t trust our eyes.” We get tricked by all kinds of details such as clothing, agreeableness, charisma, was he nice to the receptionist, is he one of us, is there a cultural fit. More often than not we get fooled and in the end, we hire the person we want to have a beer with, not the best one.
When it comes to picking your next leader, there is a significant risk of unconscious bias, particularly in the classic interview model, in which you ask the candidate the usual questions. This is a sucker bet. If the candidate is breathing, he should be able to dazzle.
Walker, whose book draws primarily on examples from sports teams, says that instead of a “manager,” a company should be looking for a “captain.” Walker thinks you find that person by using a system of “nominations” from existing team members, followed by a 360 interview process from both inside and outside people who know the candidate. Then if the “picking jury” likes what they hear, bring him in and make him an offer he can’t refuse. No interview process. Personally, I’m not sure on this one, but it’s offered here for your consideration.
Finally a major shout-out to the Tech Coast Angels, who have just selected their new president for 2020, Caitlin Wege, the first woman to head the organization in 21 years. She has a stellar background and it is about time. Wege inherits an organization that has become a major force in the angel community, with a thank-you nod to the prior leadership of Dean Rosenberg. All of us wish her well.
The San Diego entrepreneurial ecosystem is ready to support and embrace diversity across all categories. Smart, powerful women are just the tip of that iceberg.
Rule No. 634
Tell that to the captain of the Titanic.