Every entrepreneur can learn from a mentor. For example, most people do not know that billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, gives real credit to the inspiring mentorship of Steve Jobs, for his Facebook success. Most entrepreneurs simply do not know how to work with a mentor. It is not as simple as one person giving the other all the right answers.
Some of the best mentoring relationships do not involve monetary compensation. However, mentors are not free. The first cost is networking to find a mentor who is willing and able to give adequate focus to the relationship. In any case, it is good form to offer compensation, such as a small monthly stipend, plus expenses, and perhaps a one percent ownership in your startup, to show your commitment.
From my experience, here are ten basic principles and actions, to get the most out of any mentoring relationship:
- Good mentoring requires building a relationship first. A positive business or personal relationship between two people normally requires a high degree of shared values, common interests, and mutual respect. Remember that good relationships take some time to develop.
- Agree on specific objectives and time frames. Mentoring that consists of random discussions is not very satisfying for either side. I recommend, one or more early discussions of mutual objectives, with a written summary of goals and expectations from the mentee to the mentor, with timeframes and milestones.
- Make efficient use of time for both parties. This means being respectful and diligent about scheduling and keeping appointments, and returning emails and phone calls. Do not attempt to multitask, or allow constant interruptions, during meetings. Book follow-up sessions, with a set agenda.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses early. The mentor and mentee should be candid about their issues. They should look for opportunities to leverage strengths, and eliminate weaknesses. This avoids wasted time and speculation. It provides the motivation to bring in other experts or mentors as required.
- Mentor feedback must be thoughtful, specific, timely, and constructive. An important aspect of a mentoring relationship, is how the mentor provides feedback to the mentee. Formulate negative feedback in a constructive fashion. Using open-ended questions that start with “how” or “what,” will help the mentee to arrive at their own solution.
- Mentees should avoid any defensive reaction to feedback. The right response to most mentor feedback is a thoughtful question for clarification. Immediately responding with “reasons and rationale” to every feedback will be read as being dishonest. This will likely end the mentoring relationship quickly.
- Practice two-way communication and candid feedback. Mentoring is not a series of monologues and lectures, from either side. Candid feedback does not mean holding back one’s criticism. Both sides need to practice active listening and thoughtful questions. Constructive conflict is good.
- Agree to deal with unforeseen challenges openly. The most common challenges involve time and accessibility demands on either side. Both sides need to honor business boundaries, and not stray into personal relationship issues. Agree up front on how to end the relationship, if other unforeseen circumstances arise.
- Celebrate successes, and deal openly with failures. This will help the learning process and build the mentee’s confidence. Patience and time, should help the partners develop a good rapport and become more comfortable with open communication.
- Evaluate mentoring requirements on a regular basis. The mentee, should be proactive in making sure the review process occurs on a regular basis. This allows for frank discussion of unanticipated changes, and the potential for discontinuing the process and declaring success.
The end of a mentoring relationship should be seen as an opportunity to review what did and did not work. It should reflect on the results, so that every lesson that can be learned from the relationship is recognized.
The mentor and mentee should celebrate the successes, learn from failures, and conclude the relationship with positive feelings. Mentees should now consider passing on their new knowledge and skills by entering a new mentoring relationship – as a mentor.
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