Mentorship – Transform into a fearless leader

Geetha Vallabhaneni -Mentorship – Transform into a fearless leader by finding the right mentors.

Marzena Kmiecik: How do you, as a founder, don’t lose sight of what you actually set out to do? And how do you keep that energy going for your team that’s very consistent? How do you not allow your fears to get in the way? And how do you inspire when you don’t feel inspired at times?

Okay. That’s actually part of being a leader and a founder. Keep your sight on where you started. There’s a great Ted talk, Simon Sinek. He talks about the importance of the question why. Because before we understand why we are starting a company, we tend to think a lot about what am I building, and how am I going to build. But, in the beginning, you have to ask why am I doing this? And to me, the question really is—

Why? Is it something inherent in me that’s actually making me do this? Once you understand that, you always go back to that central point. even in the most frustrating in the middle of a frustrating day, you are like, I am doing this because I  care about this. Right? So you have to have that true north compass guiding you. And when you’re demotivated, this is the importance of having a mentor.

Marzena Kmiecik: I was going to ask you, if you had mentors along the way, people who advised you or you felt fully secure to open up and just say, this is what is going on.

I do have that, and I have my advisors and my mentors from… and I reach out to them and say. Here’s what I’m going through and I think that executing and strategy going forward. It’s almost like a sounding board, because at the end of the day they can’t make decisions for you. Because they’re not fully involved in day to day activities, but at least they’ll say, here’s a situation that I’ve been through and here’s how I’ve dealt with. So the more data points that you have, the more decisions that you can make. 

Marzena Kmiecik: Do you think they fuel you with that confidence of saying, I am on that track? And if not, you can bounce those ideas between them and maybe shape it to be on the right track where you don’t feel alone in the process?

So, there are very few instances where you don’t feel afraid and lonely. And that’s just part of being a founder, by the way. And it’s how you deal with that, because if someone tells you that they knew day 1, what they were going to do, that’s just, you know, that’s just not possible.

Marzena Kmiecik: And even if they had, it changes.

The successful entrepreneur always molds to the changing tide. So the role that mentors play is really nothing but a sounding board. Because at the end of the day, you have to, from your gut and instinct know what’s right and what’s wrong. And if you’re struggling with decision making, then you have to work on it. I’ve gone through executive coaching in the last year or two, and it’s been super helpful for me. And I’ve actually advise anyone that’s about to lead a team or start a company—go through this. It’s an emotional intelligence test. So I do really well on keeping my head on under stress and empathy wise.

Marzena Kmiecik: Where do you think that came from?

Oh! I think, you know…it goes back to lots of different circumstances, right. Having a family and a father that’s really supportive. And my father is a very calm and collected under stress. And I sort of learn from him. And it’s probably partly genetic, haha! I think. But you can work on it. And you know, mentors along the way in situations. You know, if you really honestly look at life, what is the worst thing that can happen? That you can starve? Or your child is starving? Or you’re going to die. If you face those, if you are saying that those are the worst things, nothing else in life can sort of mount up to that pressure. So you have a perspective, a healthy perspective about things.

Marzena Kmiecik: How do you go about finding mentors?

That’s a tough question to answer. And there’s no easy answer.

Marzena Kmiecik: Because people don’t have the time, you know? Everybody has loads of ideas, I’ve gone to many network events, I’ve organized networking events. How do you find the right people to advise you? Because the worst thing that can happen is to be surrounded by people that inject hesitation in you, or question the way you process things or your goals? Or they inject their ideas. How do YOU pick the right people?

That’s a great question. First of all, if somebody is making you doubt yourself, they are not a mentor. And so keep that always in mind.

Before you seek a teacher, or a mentor, right? you have to have a healthy sense of who you are to start with. Because a mentor can only help you shape peripheral direction and guidance, but you yourself have to really know what you are made of.

So that’s my first way. And the second point is, a mentor is someone you’ve known for a while. You know, once in a while, you do actually randomly run into a person and they’re great and you ask them a few questions. But a mentor is someone—it’s almost like it has to be a constant presence in your life. And you build a relationship with them. And a lot of depends on you, because those guys are super busy. You know, if someone is successful, and you look up to them, they already have a full plate. So it depends on you to say, here is a regular schedule. Maybe a monthly coffee that I’m going to go talk to them for an hour. But, it doesn’t have to be, by the way, don’t feel pressure that I have to come up with a smart set of questions to talk to them. At the end of the day, they are also human beings. So make a connection, make them care about you. And that’s a hard thing, because at the end of the day, why does anyone want to help you? They have to like you. And that’s the piece that people miss. Because if you just project this and…

Marzena Kmiecik: and support…support what you’re doing. Believe in it.

Yeah! Exactly. It’s your job to do that. Because at the end of the day if you just believe you have all the answers and you’re really super smart, you know, why…

Marzena Kmiecik: It’s going to cost you a lot of money.

Exactly! You know, whereas you say, I have this ambition.  Here’s how I’m working towards it, and I could really use help, this and that. People are actually really—Silicon Valley is such a great place. When they recognize you have the drive and the ambition and the smartness to go with it, they are happy to work with it. I’ve met so many people that opened doors for me, given me introductions that are meaningful for my business, that lead to great partnerships. And I keep thinking, why? Because somebody did the same thing for them.

Marzena Kmiecik: I’ve actually noticed that about Silicon Valley, more than any other place in California. And like you said, I think it’s because they’ve experienced how that feels and what that has done for their career and it’s paying forward.

Exactly. And it also instills the same values, like, right now, I’m mentoring people, and I’m happy to go meet with people if they say, hey, I need an hour’s time.

Marzena Kmiecik: Like you have done with us! Hahah! Thank you! Thank you very much!

Sure! So it’s really about give and take. You have to bring that meaningful relationship.