Friendly Wounds

The Brutal Truth About Giving Advice

I met with my friend Mike Morris. Mike just started a new management consultancy and was seeking advice and some feedback on the strategy he is putting in place. He started the conversation by asking me to do him a favor. He said, “Don’t let me dive in a pool with no water.” He told me this process of starting a new business is difficult. The difficulty is in establishing relationships with new advisors for this new business.

At his previous employer, he had relationships with people he could trust would tell him the truth. They cared enough about him to do this. Now he realizes he needs to build that advisory team so he is not listening to people who are only well-wishers.

Listen from Experience

I see this struggle with entrepreneurs all the time. They are looking for help and advice from people in the community. To this end, they come and visit with me and others. I work at listening carefully to where they are and their challenges. I then give them the best next step I believe necessary to maintain their momentum.

This is the most difficult part of my job as an advisor to entrepreneurs. These people are sharing their life vision, their dream, their future. They are putting it all on the line. I want to be encouraging, but it is most important to be brutally honest. This means sharing my experience and advice even if it is completely at odds with where they are headed. I do this because I care.  I want them to succeed. And not just in business but also in life. Each startup success makes our economy and ecosystem stronger.

I am not saying I am always right in my assessment, but I’m always honest. I have been in this startup investment business for twenty three years and have seen and heard a lot. I try to dig deep into this well of experience and share what I have learned and observed. I lost and made a lot of money, and the lessons keep coming.

Put the Relationship First

If you are a mentor, advisor or friend, you need to care enough, love enough to be honest. If you see someone going down a wrong path, talk to them. Help them. Don’t sit back and watch as they are rushing into a wall at 60mph. Talk to them. Put your relationship at risk. Some people want the truth; some don’t. The risk is in not knowing which is which. Mike wanted to know what I thought more than he wanted empty encouragement. So he told me to cut loose. This eliminated the relationship risk. Most of the time, this preamble to the conversation does not happen.

Just the other day I ran into an entrepreneur who has been working full-time on a new company idea for the last two years. I asked him if he has any revenue yet. He said, “I am working on changing the business plan a bit. I am making progress.” I asked him what his wife is thinking. He said, “The same thing. Where is the income?”

I told him he needs to get to revenue or get out. Nobody is telling this man this. Everyone else is being “encouraging.” But he has a wife and two kids. It’s time. I care about him. I didn’t challenge him to make him feel bad. I asked him so he will face reality.

This reminds me of the proverb, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”

Do you care enough for those seeking your advice to put the relationship at risk?

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