The article Before You Get a Mentor, Here’s One Thing You Need to Know by Jordan Simas includes a link to a podcast with Lois Zachary, who has written four books on mentoring, including, The Mentor’s Guide and The Mentee’s Guide. She is also affiliated with The Center for Mentoring Excellence.
If you aren’t up for listening to the roughly 8 minute podcast you can read a partial transcript.
Lois Zachary defines mentorship as follows:
We’ve come a long way from the mentor as the sage on the stage. Rather, the mentor is the guide on the side that asks questions that take people to deeper places of insight. It’s a dance, it’s a partnership and a mentor should not be giving the answers, should be raising the questions and should be helping the mentees to seek answers to their own questions
Here’s her one thing to know when a founder enters a mentorship relationship:
It’s really essential to be open. If you’re not willing to be vulnerable, and not willing to be authentic and real, then your mentor actually ends up mentoring else, and it becomes waste of time for you and a waste of time for them.
While many entrepreneurs I know are science fiction fans, Lois Zachary is not a fan of Yoda’s mentoring style: …there is no why. Nothing more will I teach you today. Clear your mind of questions. Nor am I!
The essence of mentoring is asking questions! What makes a great mentor is the ability to ask questions that stimulate the mentee to rethink or question their assumptions. There are not necessarily right or wrong answers. Every founder’s situation is different, but there are best practices for entrepreneurs as laid out in detail in Steve Blank’s book The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, which I’m working my way through and will post about in the near future.
Likewise the only stupid question a mentee has is the unasked question. In fact the best way for a founder to have a successful mentoring session is to come prepared with a list of questions for their mentor. The art of asking great questions will pay off for founders as they learn to interview customers, partners, job candidates and many others.
So be open to being asked questions by your mentor, but do your share in the relationship by asking questions of your own about your venture or your path as an entrepreneur.