Quite often when speaking with entrepreneurs one senses an element of disappointment on the expectations from interactions with a mentor. This is tricky territory for both and this article will largely delve on one side of the story.
As a starting point the entrepreneur(mentee) needs to be absolutely clear on what outcomes/ advice they are seeking – only then can it be fruitful for both. The entrepreneur should not expect mentors to do the actual job for the entrepreneur – he/she can only provide direction and guidance. Equally, the reason for reaching out to a mentor cannot be to use them as a conduit for business development via their personal industry contacts.
If the above factors are borne in mind, the core competence of the mentor should also be ascertained which should be the key reason for engagement. But a large component also relates to the softer areas, the closest analogy which can be found in student-teacher relation. A large part of it rests on the student’s willingness to learn as equally as teacher’s desire to put in the effort to bring the best out of a student. Both need to be be able to set the right expectations.
They should be a respected individuals in their areas of expertise and be accessible to the mentee, when required. Some mentors, for various reasons, are unfortunately unable to devote the requisite time with the mentee which can lead to disillusionment. It may be a good idea to ascertain the level of support required and have a transparent conversation at the start of the relationship so expectations are clear on both sides.
It is vital that the mentor is personally motivated enough to provide genuine advice and support such that it helps the entrepreneur. This goes a long way in building a healthy and positive relationship with the mentee and both stand to gain at the end of it. There are occasions when this could even translate to the mentor taking a larger role of an investor in the company being advised.
Equally important is the relevance of information the mentor provides – while there is clearly a role for experience however it is imperative that the mentor keeps abreast of the development in the marketplace so the advice provided is relevant for the entrepreneur. It has to be a fair mix between experience and what is happening in the market currently. Hence, it is vital to choose a mentor who is not stuck in a time warp.
The mentor should also be a good listener. It cannot be a one way street of only the mentee having to listen. It is critical the mentor listens and then provides the support to the entrepreneur. In as much, the mentor should push the entrepreneur and challenge him/her in areas which assist in the overall growth of the business as also the individual.
As you may have observed that choosing the right adviser is extremely critical and important not only for your own long term growth but also of your business. While making your decision of which mentor to choose, make sure you take your time and are clear why you are choosing a particular mentor.