Mike Fata, in his own words, was a school dropout, didn’t have a fancy degree, and was pretty poor growing up.
But none of that stopped him. By the age of 21 in 1998, he had co-founded one of the world’s first hemp seed companies. Over the next 20 years, he built Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods into a successful business that generated over $100 million in annual revenue, was distributed in 20 countries and employed over 300 people.
Then in 2019, Fata’s brainchild was acquired by US pharmaceutical giant Tilray, for the “life-changing” sum of $419 million. Its liquidity event was not just a moment of happiness, however. That year, he mourned the loss of his business, his marriage, and his mother all at once, and in doing so, was inspired to mentor others.
Today, Fata advises founders on their growth journey through her podcast, individual coaching and a newsletter. He also distilled all of his learnings into his forthcoming book, Growing Up: 12 Unconventional Lessons to Become an Unstoppable Entrepreneur.
Over time, he’s learned that the biggest challenge many founders, himself included, face isn’t turning an idea into a successful multimillion-dollar business, but rather becoming more personally a leader.
“I am a born entrepreneur, but I became CEO,” he beams with solidarity. Looking back, the 9-figure founder recounts Fortune there are two things he did to step up.
1. Read what makes good leadership and practice it
Oscar Wilde wrote that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and it turns out it’s also a good way to learn to lead.
Fata boasts of having read over 500 business books that highlight what makes a good CEO. He then “experimented” with the various success strategies and high performance habits detailed in books like “getting up at 4 a.m. to go to the gym to prime the body and have longer hours in the day” until until he finds what works for him.
Beyond self-help guides and executive biographies, founders can even learn about management practices that are typically taught in business schools, like governance.
“I learned that structure commands function,” he says. “If you put a good structure in a company, it will really help accelerate the execution of a strategic plan.”
He’s now a self-proclaimed “governance expert” and advises boards on the matter – and he says reading has played a small part in that.
The 3 books that Fata recommends entrepreneurs read, right now, to become better CEOs:
- good to excellent by Jim Collin—Bbecause it “teaches how businesses that achieve enduring greatness have disciplined people, disciplined thinking, and disciplined action.”
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – Because it “teaches the best way to get someone to do something by appealing to their self-interest”.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear—Because it “teaches how small habits, practiced consistently, can lead to remarkable results over time.”
2. Learn from real-life leaders
In addition to emulating leaders you admire in books, Fata recommends following leaders in real life through mentorship.
During his career, he had both traditional mentors in the form of CEOs and peer mentors who were entrepreneurs in his industry, but a year or two ahead of him in their growth journey.
“I had the opportunity to learn from them by seeing how they handled their strategic planning, how they conduct their management meetings, what their bonus and compensation structure looks like for their team, and other things they did to motivate the company,” he says. .
Fata says the more you are exposed to authentic examples of what good management looks like, the better. You can then choose the practices that would work well in your business.
How to find a mentor
Picking up a book on leadership is quite easy and accessible. Unfortunately, finding a mentor isn’t as simple as downloading an e-book or going to your local library.
Finding a mentor requires valuing yourself and developing a relationship with someone before you can even ask them if they would consider mentoring you.
Events that other leaders in your industry are likely to attend, such as awards, conventions, and trade shows, are “the best place to fish for a mentor.” In the meantime, if you don’t quite have the guts to strike up a conversation with a stranger, then LinkedIn is your best bet.
But before you take the leap and ask someone awesome to be your mentor, Fata recommends making a real friendship first.
“Just because someone is successful doesn’t mean they’ll be a good mentor to you. You might need someone who’s only a few more successful years than you are,” he says, adding that “that fit is really important.”
Only by developing a relationship with a potential mentor after many conversations will you know if they are right for you, and vice versa.
As Fata says, “Mentoring is a give-and-take relationship. In most successful, long-lasting relationships, the mentor gets something from the mentee just as much as the mentee gets something from a mentor. »