Excuses for not mentoring

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Matt Collins has an entire series of posts on mentoring on the DDI site, a leadership development consultancy, but his post Why You Should Mentor caught my attention. But not for “why you should mentor” but for the excuses he’s found in trying to recruit mentors for non-profit organizations. So certainly read his post on LinkedIn if you are interested in why you should mentor. Here are my reasons:

  • You’ll learn from your mentees. Founders are by their nature interesting people doing new and exciting things. I’ve learned as much from them, as they have from me.
  • You’ll be exposed to new ideas and technology. While I have no background in medical devices or biotech, I’ve found mentoring founders of companies in these market fascinating. Mentoring gives you an inside look at new and different technology, new markets and new ways to approach them. If you care about what’s new in technology and business like I do, mentoring is a firsthand way to be exposed to what’s new.
  • You’ll meet other mentors. I’ve met a large number of accomplished and interesting people I never would have met otherwise. There’s a real camaraderie amongst mentors.
  • You’ll gain satisfaction. I root for my mentees, and like a sports coach, I get satisfaction when they are chosen to present at a demo day, raise their first round of capital, get their first paying customer, and achieve other major milestones.

But here’s the excuses and common objections to mentoring, combining Matt’s list with my comments and adding a couple of other excuses as well.

  • I don’t have enough time. There’s an old saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” The idea behind that saying is that busy people are doers, people with time on their hands are not. But the reality is you need to see how you are spending your time, our most precious resource. I’m sure you can find ways to fit in mentoring, whether it means cutting back on TV, Facebook or other diversions. You will find mentoring is both far more diverting and more rewarding than most screen time.
  • I don’t have the right skills or expertise. Mentors are made, not born. Check out the post by Jayson DeMers on Inc. 7 Key Qualities of an Effective Mentor. I’m confident that if you are reading this post you have these qualities. And virtually all mentoring calls for general business experience and expertise, not specific technical knowledge or abilities.
  • I’m not outgoing. Ok, this certainly was one of my excuses. But just because I’m always the wallflower at the party doesn’t mean I couldn’t be effective as a mentor. And MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service team mentoring means meant I never had to fly solo. There really is not right type of person to be a mentor just as there really isn’t a right type of person to be an entrepreneur.
  • I’m not the kind of mentor someone would choose. If you’ve worked in or with a startup, have significant business experience, and a sincere interest in helping entrepreneurs with no agenda of your own, you’ll certainly make the short list. But given how we seem to be in a “mentoring bubble” organizations might be getting more selective. But you won’t know unless you apply.
  • I’m already helping out in other ways. Ok, great, that means you have one of the key qualities of a mentor, a desire to help other people. You’ll find mentoring is a new and rewarding way to do that.
  • I’m not a member. I first learned about MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service well over ten years ago. But I assumed that you had to be an MIT grad or have some affiliation with MIT to participate. But I should have known that is not the case, as MIT has a very open and inclusive culture. I still remember when I was Director of Information Services at MIT being asked by the Admissions department to participate in reviewing applications for admission. That certainly surprised me! So eventually I did learn that my assumption was wrong and the MIT VMS has many mentors with no MIT affiliation. So don’t make assumptions – that incubator, accelerator or academic mentoring program might welcome you.
  • They are going to expect me to invest. While this was true of TechStars when I was asked to mentor there, a large portion of mentoring activity takes place at non-profits. And these organizations not only don’t expect you to invest in the startups you mentor, they don’t allow it. They rightly believe that investing may bias the mentor in ways that don’t benefit the mentee.

So while you might not have the good looks of Yoda, that doesn’t meant you can’t be a mentor. Get out there and give it a try!



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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