The article on Attero.com entitled Mentorship: How to Be the Ideal Mentor (or Mentee) has a number of good tips. As the author writes, “mentoring is a two-way street” – something both mentees and mentors should keep in mind, as the relationship is often seen as just one-way, mentors giving advice and guidance to founders. But both sides should benefit from the relationship.
Here are the tips, but with my comments added. Read the article to see the author’s explanation of each tip.
- Enter with a plan. This is part of my “working backwards” philosophy. Think about what you want to accomplish by having a mentor. Is it feedback on a current problem you are having? Comments on a pitch deck? Advice on how to recruit engineers is a highly competitive market? Think about where you want to be after the meeting and how that’s different than where you started from.
- Read the room. This is especially important in team mentoring where a founder may be facing two or more mentors, neither of whom he or she has met before.
- Don’t neglect chemistry. Rapport is critical. No matter how skilled or knowledgeable the mentor, if the founder and mentor don’t click it won’t be a working relationship. That’s one reason why MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service enables founders to change mentors for at any time. The other tip, which again fits my business philosophy is have a test run. Whether mentor or mentee, you may want to have a coffee, an informal meeting, before embarking on a formal mentoring relationship.
- Set an agenda. You not only need to set an agenda. You need to follow it. Put it up on the white board or handout hard copies. Either way, your agenda needs to tie in with your plan for the meeting.
- Get to know one another. Again you can use one of my standard business practices: get to the meeting early. Mentors often do. In fact you could even ask them to. That way you can chat before the clock starts on the meeting and diving into the formal agenda. And if both parties have the time, an informal chat after the meeting ends can help too.
- Prepare to learn — and teach a little, too. Although seen this way, mentoring is fundamentally an educational process. As the author writes, as a founder you need to be an active listener. Ask follow up questions. Mentors should ask the question, “how are we doing? is this helpful?” during the meeting. And mentors should expect to learn from founders, as well as vice versa. To quote the author, No matter which side of the coin you’re on, showing a hunger to either learn or inform will draw people to you — like a moth to a flame.