Even highly successful people rely on mentors


The article in The Wall Street JournalMicrosoft’s Peggy Johnson on Her Trusted Advisers, caught my attention with its subtitle: The deal maker calls on mentors from former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing to Liberty Media’s Greg Maffei.

I think most of us tend to perceive mentors as advisors and guides to startups, perhaps only to first time entrepreneurs. The received wisdom seems to be by the time a company is launched and garners financing the Board of Directors and/or a strategic board of advisors replaces mentors from an accelerator or academic program like MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service.  And while there are examples of startups that do stay with MIT VMS for years, they are by far the exception.

So why is Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development, relying on mentors?

… she largely relies on her gut when making big decisions but then “validates her intuition” by checking in with valued former colleagues, mentors and, first and foremost, her husband, Eric Johnson, an independent investor.

It seems that Ms. Johnson treats her mentors as a personal board of directors, advising her on career moves, like joining Microsoft.

So all you founders out there, don’t think of mentoring as training wheels you can easily drop when you move on to a riding two-wheeler. Life as a CEO is tough. Where do you go for help? Not your Board! They might perceive you as weak. After all CEOs do report to Boards of Directors, who have the power to fire them and hire their replacements. And VC dominated  boards are notorious for bringing in “adult supervision” if they feel a startup they have funded is going sideways.

So here’s some advice from a long term mentor: hang on to those mentoring relationships and when the going gets tough as CEO you’ll have some impartial and knowledgeable advisors who not only can give you feedback, but know you, and knew you when you were first starting out. And if you are so successful you are invited to join the Board of another company you just might want to check in with one of your mentors before you do, as Peggy Johnson did with Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Media (and a former Microsoft executive as I recall).

“Greg emphasized that it was as important for the board to be a good fit for me and my goals as it was for me to fit the board’s needs,” Ms. Johnson recalls. She joined in 2013.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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