Tap Into Your Network to Grow as an Entrepreneur

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

Last week I honed in on the importance of talent as a pillar of entrepreneurship. This time, the focus is on connectivity, especially how networking and community-building can come into play.

The one truth people seldom acknowledge is that entrepreneurship and personal/professional growth can be a lonely process. Yes, people are often quick to share success stories, but it’s rare to hear about the flops, failures or false starts. I think that’s because entrepreneurs tend to be very passionate about their pursuits and any inkling that things aren’t going right is interpreted as failure. I also think communities judge failure harshly. Believe it or not, the community of practice suggests getting 2 out of 1,000 ideas right and executing on them is world class. Our society is conditioned for celebrating successes but not embracing and leaning into failure. However, with failure, there is growth, maturation, and savviness!

So then whom can a hungry entrepreneur talk to—not only when we’re emerging–but also when we’re kickin’ butt? Or when we’re in a rut or unsure about what to do in a situation? The answer is to get out of your comfort zone. This week, I am enrolled in a one year Certified Innovation Mentor Program at University of Notre Dame. Some of the ‘sage’ advice I received may offer a few ways to push you past your limits:

First, schedule meetings with your “band of heroes” regularly. If you want to know who the real players are in the business world are, try scheduling an early-morning meeting with someone. Most high-powered people don’t have much time to spare during the workday, so they have to start early. So trade in your midday salad for 7 a.m. eggs and coffee. One speaker who was a president of a health system shared he relies on testing his assumptions and ideas against a colleague who is an author, motivational speaker, a management guru, and a futurist. Who are your go to “band of heroes”? Be sure to use them as a check and balance to keep you grounded and real.

Second, don’t look to one mentor, but seek out diverse and contradictory points of views and perspectives. Many people are inclined to seek the professional guidance of one individual, especially when they are starting out. The reality is that one person’s perspective simply isn’t enough. You need a team of people and therefore a variety of opinions and life experiences. It is important to know the difference between mentor, coach and trusted advisor. Test “your go to people” against the Trustworthiness definition.

Trustworthiness is defined as: (Credibility * Reliability* Intimacy) divided by Self-Orientation.

The higher the overall number the higher the trustworthiness. Credibility = how believable the person is; reliability = how likely the person you are interacting will do what they say they will do; intimacy = how strong the mutual relationship is, and how invested we are in each other’s outcomes divided by self-orientation, is the person in it for themselves or for you? (Think WIIFM – what’s in it for me?)

Third, one of speakers suggested there are three leadership behaviors we should emulate in our daily life to embed and lead. They are known by the acronym TAC. The T is time. How do you as a leader spend your time? This says a lot about what you as the leader values. The A is attention. Who and what do you pay attention to as the leader? The C is care. What do you as the leader care about? What do you have energy about? Organizations will assess what the leader sustains and shows excitement for over a long period of time.

Whatever you do, keep in mind that your comfort zone is a nice place to hang out, but it’s not the place for professional growth and maturation. If you’re not progressing then you’re going backwards. And who wants to lose traction?Intellectual curiosity is a prerequisite for leadership. What’s one thing you can do this week to challenge yourself and advance your “community of practice knowledge”? Lean in it and do it! If you do it for 21 consecutive days, it will become a new habit!


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