You often hear about the importance of founders being “coachable”, but what does that mean? Does it mean they should follow advice from anyone who seems more knowledgable? Bryce Roberts blogged about being coachable not malleable. A CEO needs to view feedback like any data that’s relevant to their startup: it should be quickly analyzed, filtered, and acted upon only if warranted. CEOs please always remember: it’s your business. If you try to follow everyone’s advice, your business won’t exist very long. At the same time, you should be open to quality advice. So what’s the right kind of “coachable”?
1) First: Be Open to Direct Feedback
Sounds easy, right? Turns out it can be difficult to hear someone call your baby ugly. The trick is to listen, ask relevant follow up questions, and avoid debating. And listen some more. If you’ve met with 25 potential mentors and dismissed every piece of feedback, you probably weren’t open to it in the first place. Keep an open mind and don’t take it personally.
2) Filter the Feedback
Expect conflicting advice from different mentors. At Techstars we call this “mentor whiplash”. You shouldn’t try to follow all of the advice – that would be a mess – but nor should you dismiss it all. Filter it, and hopefully what’s left is actionable advice that sets your startup on the right path. Sometimes you’ll have data and objective advisors to guide you; other times you’ll have to trust your gut. Analyze it, take control and set a definitive direction.
3) Nurture a Continuous Feedback Loop
Great mentors are magic, and once you engage them the best thing to do is keep them engaged. The mentor-mentee relationship is like any other: it needs to be nurtured and it’s up to the mentee to do that. Meet regularly and continue to ask for feedback. I love it when I talk to CEOs who went through Techstars five years ago and still meet with their lead mentors every month. Again, it doesn’t mean you should act on every bit of advice – they’re all data points – just listen and be judicious.
Being coachable isn’t enough – it’s important to be the right kind of coachable. You can be strong and confident while soliciting advice, it just takes practice. Your startup will thank you.