I write a monthly column for Inc Magazine called Dispatches from TechStars. Here’s an excerpt from a January 17, 2012 Inc Magazine article.
Rule No. 1 about start-up mentors: They are not omniscient. In fact, sometimes they’re just plain wrong.
It’s something that’s not always easy to see as an entrepreneur. You go to mentors for advice because they have see some of the things that you’re going to see and they’ve made some of the mistakes that you’re hoping not to make.
Still, they’re not running your business—you are. There’s no law that says you have to do what your mentor suggests. And the sooner you learn how to say “no” confidently, the easier it will be to manage these key relationships.
At TechStars, I have the privilege of working with hundreds of the best and brightest start-up mentors on the planet. We coach our mentors to take a Socratic approach and to provide data rather than decisions. But not all mentors (even some of ours) behave this way all the time. Sometimes a mentor firmly believes that she is right, and presents as fact what is actually strongly held belief.
The best mentors present their opinions simply as data and not as direction. They’re hoping that their past experience will help you. But since the best mentors are also hoping to learn from their relationship with you, they should also be open to being wrong and to learning from the experience. If they’re not, that’s a big red flag that you’ve got the wrong mentor.
So what happens when a mentor tells you what to do and you don’t agree?
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