Let’s face it, guys, tech is overwhelming male, from the boards of directors to the senior executives to the staff. And including mentoring groups. This issue has gotten a lot of press lately, so no reason to reiterate the issue. But I thought Rebecca Shireman‘s article in Florida Today Mentoring benefits all who are involved was well worth posting about for two reasons: one, it’s a well written article that does a great job of articulating the do’s and don’ts of mentoring, and two, unlike most of the posts and articles I comment on and annotate, it’s written by a woman, not a man. As Alan Kay said, “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points”. So here’s a woman’s perspective on mentoring. As usual, I will follow the steps outlined in her article, but annotate each of them with my own comments. So read the original article, please.
For a long time I thought I didn’t have a mentor –I’d never asked anyone to be my mentor so how could this relationship have been established? Yes, I had women (and men) that I looked up to and who gave me their valuable insight and advice but since we didn’t meet once a month and I had never made the formal request, I didn’t think this really “counted” as a mentor. Then I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book and I realized in the case of finding a mentor that it is okay to break the “rules.”
• Ask for a meeting, not a mentor. My first rule of business development and sales is “get the meeting.” So while getting a mentor is neither activity, the rule still applies. Nothing is better than a face to face meeting. And nothing is better than a conversation. Mentoring is a relationship that needs to develop, like a friendship. You can’t just jump into it with a total stranger and expect it to work.
• Show genuine interest and curiosity. If you aren’t genuinely interested in the mentor, he or she will pick up on that very quickly, trust me. I’ve seen a couple of cases where founders had to participate in mentoring in order to qualify for a grant and obviously weren’t happy to be there. Mentors are curious people and expect founders to be as well.
• Be respectful of his or her time. A very large percentage of mentors are financially secure, but no matter how much money you have, you only get 24 hours in a day. Time is a mentor’s most valuable resource. Again, one of my business development principles applies, get there early – not just “on time.” And nothing shows more disrespect to a mentor than being late for a meeting! And end the meeting bit early too, if the mentor wants to talk further let him or her pull you back.
• Don’t make it all about you. Mentors are like founders, they like to learn. It’s a real benefit of mentoring bright, dynamic young entrepreneurs. So learn your mentor’s interests and be on the look out for news or information that might interest them. And keep in mind, you don’t learn anything while you are talking, only when you are listening. So come prepared with a good list of questions to address in your mentor meeting.
• Manage expectations. Look to mentors for advice, guidance and feedback – not miracles! One expectation to set is how often you will meet and for how long. Too frequently, such a once a week is too often. But leaving months between meetings isn’t good either. Ask for a meeting when you have something important you need help with. It’s fine to cancel a meeting – with enough notice – if you don’t need help at that appointed time.
• Initiate but don’t be a pest. There’s a fine line between being assertive and becoming annoying. Keep in mind bullet number three – respect your mentor’s time. That includes time reading and responding to your emails, not just meeting with you.
• Be a mentor. You don’t have to wait until you’ve hit the jackpot, cashed out and retired to become a mentor. Peer-to-peer mentoring is an interesting option and one that is encouraged in accelerator and incubator programs like Y-Combinator. Mentoring is stimulating, fun, and can be a challenge. It’s also rewarding to see how your mentoring has helped the founder to hit a milestone, solve a problem, or come up with a creative approach to their business.