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Find a Mentor Who Challenges You

Source | LinkedIn : By John Chambers

New innovations and unexpected ideas are transforming the world, creating a landscape that is both extremely exciting and challenging for start-ups. In this environment, having a good mentor can make or break a growing business: research shows that mentored small businesses are twice as likely to survive for more than five years than non-mentored small businesses.[i]

I was fortunate to have several role models from across business, government and more who taught me a lot of important lessons throughout my career. These lessons helped me lead Cisco through significant market transitions, staying ahead of the curve while competitors fell behind. I’ve been committed to paying it forward by sharing knowledge with others throughout my career and even more so today by mentoring colleagues and young entrepreneurs in the Valley, and around the world.

To me, there’s nothing more energizing than being around entrepreneurs who are using technology to change our world. While any start-up is bound to have challenges and make mistakes, part of the fun in being an advisor is helping them navigate through these moments. Recently, I’ve had several meetings with members of India’s Innovators Under 35 list from MIT Technology Review. Throughout the course of our conversations, I’ve found that they have many of the same questions as other leaders I mentor. Here are some of the most common questions I get from start-ups, and my key pieces of advice for today’s leaders:

How do you stay agile?

I often tell leaders to make sure their key stakeholders understand that agility is critical to their success. Whether you’re talking about how you adjust to markets or take business risk, you need to be nimble to innovate. Agility is something that both start-ups and established companies need to do very well to get ahead and stay ahead. At Cisco, we’ve stayed agile by always being willing to reinvent ourselves ahead of our peers. My advice to my mentees is to have the courage to pivot before everyone else catches on. If you wait until it’s obvious, it’ll be too late. I also tell them to stay close to their customers – what keeps them up at night is the best indication of when it’s time to move into new areas.

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