Don’t Be An Asshole: Gestalt of Coaching Entrepreneurs & Startups

James Avery Adzerk Image

James Avery From AdZerk

James Avery had lunch with startups at Triangle Startup Factory sharing his journey scaling his ad serving company AdZerk. We could relate to James’ experience and I loved his sudden and dramatic realization.

When you are a startup you get a LOT of advice. Something about the word “startup” seems to bring out the teacher in almost anyone.

But there’s a problem.

James discussed his sudden realization. He was doing it wrong. He was giving advice the wrong way. James wrote what has become a highly influential post:

How I Learned To Stop Giving Advice

Love this post and we’ve been in that meeting many times over the last few weeks. We’ve had his “advice” experience 100 times (and have been guilty as charged a few times ourselves too):

I used to be such an asshole. I would meet someone and they would tell me about their startup and 10 minutes in I would start giving them suggestions on what they should do.

After 10 minutes of conversation I had the nerve to believe I had thought of something that had never occurred to them about their product or company. What an asshole.

James isn’t an asshole. He spent several generous hours with us on Friday SHARING HIS EXPERIENCE. This is the “Gestalt” of how to share with entrepreneurs. Does it get more Type A than people who want to start a company?

Don’t think so, and that personality profile means the best way to coach us is to share relevant experience. Let the obsessive Type A startup entrepreneurs fill in some dots on their own – how every adult learns best!

James links in another great post from  Chief Optimizer breaking down the “gestalt” of coaching startups and entrepreneurs:

  • Speak from your own experience rather than give advice.

  • Use “I” statements not “one” or “you,” but “I.”

  • Speak in specifics not generalities. If I were to say, “all men are workaholics” that would be a generality. Instead if I were to say, “my dad and my partner are workaholics” that would be specific.

  • Ask “How” not “Why” to prevent defensiveness. If I were to say “Why didn’t you fire your bookkeeper when you found out he was steeling from you?” that maybe attacking. Instead if I were to say, “How did you come to the decision as to whether or not you should fire your bookkeeper.”

  • Make a statement to declare your position before you ask a question.

  • Say, “I feel” to mean real feelings like sad, mad or glad, rather that saying “I feel you are.” Forum is a uniquely personal experience where emotions are as important to the process as the facts. By asking someone how do you feel, we attempt to evoke the emotions in the person that are perpetuated by the situation. Using feel in the right context will allow for deeper presentations.

  • Replace “I don’t know” with “I won’t decide” or “I don’t want to say.”

This is great advice, advice with interesting overlap. Many of those bullets are relevant to my experience of publishing more than a million words online. There is a gestalt to creating effective content online too, but that is another post :). James shared great experiences on team development, raising money and scaling a startup.

Far from being an asshole, he was generous, funny and kind. Generosity, having a sense of humor and being kind are great attributes to think about when coaching startups or the guy serving your pizza. One sure thing having cancer taught me is life is too short to be an asshole. Thanks to James Avery we can avoid being a jerk the next time someone asks for advice. Hope I do it half as well as James did at TSF on Friday.

Thanks James!

Graphic is from another great and relevant post about why giving advice hurts the goal of helping startups. Peer Coaching, Group Sharing & Danger of Giving Advice

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