Whoever might be your guiding beacon, know how to handle that relationship properly. (Photo illustration by Jeff Boyer)
I have a very unscientific measure of the impact of mentoring in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the growing number articles my Google alert for “mentor” is bringing about how mentoring is playing a key role in startups. While “mentoring” still seems to be mainly about either adult mentoring youths or senior managers doing career mentoring, it seems that more and more groups are discovering the power of mentoring.
So here’s a second straight article about the benefits of mentoring from a woman’s perspective: Advice for building a strong mentor-mentee relationship by Brianna Snyder in the Times Union newspaper. Brianna Snyder interviewed executive coach Anne Saile, president of the Saile Group, who’s mentored dozens and dozens of women and men and Steve Gonick executive and entrepreneur in residence at Ithaca College, who’s been mentoring women students, and pairing them with other male mentors for the past five years. Gonicks says, ” He says he spends 50 percent of his time on women’s advancement issues and aspires to start a nonprofit organization pairing male mentors with women mentees.”
So while some of this advice is duplicative or similar to other advice about finding mentors other points are not. As usual I will annotate each point; read the original article to see what the author wrote.
1. Find many mentors. This is a piece of advice I haven’t seen before. It comes from Anne Salle who advises that no one mentor can fill all your needs. I think this is true. However, finding a great mentor isn’t easy. So I would advise starting with a generalist who can help you with founding issues, like validating your business concept or finding a partner. Once your business has traction it may then be time to look for other mentors with domain expertise. But here we come back to a proverbial issue: the difference between mentors and advisors. See my post Mentors, Teachers, Coaches & Advisors. My advice would be to have one or two mentors, but several advisors – a more lightweight relationship and one more focused directly on your market.
2. Don’t be afraid to mentor the mentor. We’ve seen this advice before, but Steve Gonick puts a new twist on it for female-male mentor relationships: “”I think women have been trying to mentor men on how to be better human beings since the beginning of time.” And Brianna Snyder adds:
Not all men understand the complex nature of male privilege in the workplace. So a male-female mentorship, in which some of those issues can be elucidated, can be just as instructive for men as for women.
3. Reach high. Again this issue relates directly to women seeking out male mentors. “Saile says one thing she’s noticed is that men tend to form relationships with each other at much higher levels [than women] within an organization. I was not aware of this and it is good advice – as generally the more senior the person, the more experience he will have, which is a key part of what you need in a mentor, male or female. I would add that “reach high” is not a bad motto for founders in general, not just for women seeking out male mentors.
4. Do what you say you’re going to do. Again this is excellent advice for any founder, male or female. Everyone around you expects you to be reliable, consistent and most of all trustworthy. Mentoring is a relationship and all relationships are built on trust, and trust is built on actions, not words. So whether it’s showing up for a meeting on time or doing your mentor-directed “homework” – respect your mentor by doing what you say you’re going to do. The last thing a mentor wants to be doing is nagging their mentee, or even having to remind them of their obligations.
5. Ask for what you need. This is totally congruent with the advice I give mentees: “If you don’t ask, you surely won’t get. So ask.” If you need the answer to a question an email or phone call may be a much better use of the mentor’s time than setting up a meeting. But also be careful about asking more from a mentor than appropriate: we can’t always provide connections, can’t often help you raise money, and can rarely find you new customers. If we can great, we will, but it’s advice, guidance and feedback you should be asking for.
6. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Thanks to the brilliant invention of team mentoring by MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, I don’t have to worry about male-female boundary issues. All meetings are held at VMS offices on campus. The same goes for MIT Sandbox. So frankly I don’t have any experience with the boundary issue between men and women in my mentoring career. But Saile’s advice on sticking to a strictly business protocol certainly sounds like good preventive medicine for women founders in their relationship with male mentors.