By definition, if you own or run a company, you’re the one who makes things happen. You’re the gas pedal, the visionary, a motivator. But I in recent years, I’ve learned the value of seeking advice from people who are willing to share their experiences while holding me accountable.
If you own or run a company, you probably believe you’re smart and are doing the right things. Otherwise you have no business in this role!
It’s been 20 years since we opened our doors, which means I had to be doing something right. But I can see now, the only way to grow smarter is to surround myself with people who’ve made mistakes and gained experiences that I haven’t.
That’s why we established a Board of Advisors. For many years, I had the benefit of hosting a weekly TV show that involved interviewing CEOs. In some cases, I connected with them on a personal level, so those are the people I approached first.
In all, six accomplished individuals agreed to be a part of our company’s Board. Each represents a specific expertise: marketing, finance, M&A, operations, growing a company and networking.
We meet for dinner three times a year. Prior to each meeting, they receive our financials, updates on our strategy, personnel, marketing and sales. All the good stuff and all the bad stuff. If there’s more bad stuff than good or if we’re not doing what we said we’d do, we’re in for a difficult Board meeting.
I remember one meeting in particular that was awful. Pointed comments, sharp advice and little small talk. I was practically numb driving home. Until it occurred to me: that is why they are here. It’s my role to embrace and value that criticism. Really listen and even when it’s clear that I’m the root of the problem, I have to accept it — even seek more of it. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, but it’s the way to fail faster.
At a later Board meeting, a contentious issue came up. The debate between the six of them got lively and for the first time I got a sense of their individual personalities. Some of them preferred to operate close to the edge, take the risk, do the deal NOW. The others preferred to play it safe. Half the table advised one strategy, half the table said, no way. The debate clarified my options, but an important take-away was that I hadn’t been overlooking some obvious answer.
The finance guy, who is a nationally recognized expert on banking, is the cautionary figure. He plays the important role of aggressive pessimist. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think you’ll survive if you do it this way.” He’ll be the first to admit that you only want one of his type of personality on the Board. But you absolutely have to have one to balance out the others, particularly the close-to-the-edge bunch.
Fellow entrepreneurs often ask me what the Board gets in return for their service. Well, nothing approaching the value they represent, I’m afraid. I pay them a nominal fee and always have some unpredictable gift like a Duffle bag from the Masters golf tournament or a photo of the tornado hitting downtown Atlanta signed by the photographer. They also know they’re helping grow a business that’s the lifeblood of dozens of people.
A Board can help you avoid mistakes and make smarter decisions. If you’re open to it, they can also provide some guidance on personal matters. Several have been open and transparent about challenges in their personal lives, and I always treat that perspective as a gift.
Yes, you have to be pretty sharp to run a company or own one, but nobody is skilled at everything. Get outside perspective. Get over it. Get on with it.
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