Scott Adams has something to teach us about mentoring


As usual with Scott Adams, there’s a kernel of real business savvy embedded in his humor. While the Mentorphile blog focuses on mentoring entrepreneurs, not on the far more common career mentoring lampooned on today’s Dilbert strip, the pointy-haired boss’s request that “Maybe you could give me a scenario and then I’ll tell you what to do.” after whining that “It’s hard to think of advice while you are pressuring me.” are far from unreasonable. Of course, no mentor should make statements like “I’m full of useful advice”! There are two lessons here are worth noting for mentors and those founders who are being mentored:

  1. Mentors can not be expected to be vending machines for advice. Advice can’t be given in a vacuum; it needs context. It is the responsibility of the mentee to provide that context. In other words, mentoring is largely reactive. Our role is to response with helpful advice, feedback, and guidance to the founder’s current problem or situation. The exception is when mentoring raw startups who haven’t even created a business entity, in that case there is plenty of standard advice we can give about creating the right legal foundation, but even that advice needs context: is the founder trying to create a lifestyle business, a slow-growing boutique business or a shoot for the moon hyper-growth company?
  2. Scenarios are one of the best ways to educate, as proven by the case method used at Harvard Business School and at other professional schools at Harvard. Having worked with HBS on one of the first interactive case studies Managing Across Borders by Professor Christopher Bartlett –  I learned a fair amount about the case method and have become an advocate for adopting a version of it for both recruiting (in my past) and mentoring (today). While there’s a lot of abstract concepts tossed around in the startup world – like “product/market fit” – founders operate in the real world of concrete actions and results. One definition of scenario is a a postulated sequence or development of events. In other words, a hypothesis about how things will play out in the future given a certain initial state. In oThe founder can posit an “if/then hypothesis” such as “if I provide stock options to my senior management team then should I also offer options to outstanding individual contributors or even to my entire staff?” The mentor can then rely on his own experience, his experience mentoring other founders, and his general knowledge about compensation issues to help the founder explore different answers to this question.

Perhaps eventually Scott Adams will lampoon us mentors to company founders, in the meantime we now have two career mentoring strips to enjoy and learn from!


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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