Editorial: Who do you talk to?

Sep 19, 2014

It’s lonely at the top and hard to find someone who will listen and provide useful advice, Mark Zweig writes. It’s been said before that it’s lonely at the top. There’s a lot of truth to that. When you’re the boss, who do you talk to? More importantly, perhaps, is who can you talk to who will give you good advice? This is a very real problem and not a simple one for most people leading successful AEC firms to solve. Here are some of your options:
  1. Spouse. If you are one of the lucky few, you have a spouse who is a good listener, has good business instincts and can provide you with worthwhile advice. But for most – even those with loving and caring spouses – you won’t get that. You’ll be getting input from someone who has a very limited perspective, largely based on what you tell them. They will often tend to be biased toward you, and be completely family-centric versus company-centric borne from their role as a family care provider. Not always the best advisors.
  2. Parent. Parents tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they support you no matter what you say or do, even if it’s stupid, because they love you; or, they don’t support your decision making at all and treat you as if you were still a child without a lick of sense, even at age 50. There’s a third group that’s out there, too, of parents who worked the same job for 30- to 50 years and don’t understand self-employment or entrepreneurial ventures and think you should have stayed at whatever job you had out of college. In any case, unless your parents owned and grew a business similar to yours, it’s probably hard to get good business input from them.
  3. Business partner(s). Good business partners can be good sounding boards. They also may have unique insight for you based on their experience and role in the firm. The problem is that if you are higher level in the ownership or management pecking order, they may not be honest with you. You have to have some confident partners whose input you respect. But not everyone does. Many of us inherited our partners and didn’t pick them.
  4. Someone who works for you. See above. You are still their boss. No one likes to tell the emperor that he or she has no clothes on.
  5. Business or personal “coach.” There are many of these self-proclaimed coaches out there. The biggest problem with many of them is they haven’t demonstrated that they are successful business owners. Therefore, most business owners really don’t listen to what they say. And why should they?
  6. Management consultant. See above. Again, lots of consultants out there but how many really understand the AEC business and how many run successful businesses themselves? If not, how can these people be your confidantes and trusted advisors? Not to say that catharsis can’t be good for you but it would be nice to get some meaningful input and insight that really helps you deal with a myriad of problems that go along with running your business.
  7. Psychiatrist/psychotherapist. Most psychiatrists don’t do psychotherapy any longer. They just prescribe drugs. And most psychotherapists just let you blather on about yourself as long as you pay. They may have insights on dealing with people that could help you but probably won’t have any real business input.
  8. Your mentor. Hopefully, you have one. Someone who has been successful and who really understands you and where you’ve come from and want to go. If you don’t, I suggest you try to find one!
Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1072, originally published 8/22/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.