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How to be a mentor

There’s a lot of talking about mentors for entrepreneurs and how to get them, but about best practice for being a mentor and mentee. How do you get the most value out of a mentorship?

I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to mentor a few startup founders over the years. It’s one of the best ways to truly pay-it-forward. I’ve also had wonderful mentors helping me forward. Sometimes, the best is to tell everything to someone that isn’t involved in your day to day life and understands the pressure you’re facing. I’ve heard of different processes and level of success with mentoring, so I wanted I’d share what I’ve found to be working the best.

Build trust

There is no problem having several mentors. One can be good at your market segment, while others can be good helping you grow in your role as a leader. Regardless of the type of mentor, it’s critical to build trust to really be efficient and helpful. Trust is established through several meetings where the mentee opens up about his/her goals and needs, while the mentor exemplifies what part to help on through own experience and reflection.

The start

The first time I met with one of my mentors, I got the task of writing my 10 year plan. The exercise helped me think through what I’m doing and where I want to go with my startup and life. That made it much easier for my mentor to be helpful.

Frequency

At first, there should be an agreement in place between the parties on frequency. My recommendation is to have a fixed calendar event every 3–6 weeks. It’s important to address that the mentee can reach out if it’s needed outside of this interval. During the first year, the frequency should naturally be higher than lower, as both learn each other. I would recommend starting with a frequency of 3 weeks.

Focus

At the beginning of each session, the mentee should have an idea of the goal of the session. That way the mentor can be more effective to ensure that the mentee will have an action plan to tackle the challenges as the session comes to a close.

Facilitation

At first, the mentor should take an active role facilitating the discussions to ensure progress. After a while, this responsibility transfers to the mentee to take control.

Action plan

At the end of the session, you should agree on a clear action plan on how to move forward. At the beginning of the next session, the mentee should share what’s the status of the plan and what worked/didn’t work and why.

The hard part

The hardest part is definitely not telling your mentee what to do, but rather help them resonate with the best possible answer to a challenge. The mentee will always have more information that the mentor, thus, the mentor should focus on getting the mentee to properly think through all angles and suggest solutions that they can discuss together.

Evaluation

Set a date for evaluating the mentorship. That gives both parties an easy way out if it doesn’t work. Or something should be changed that is reducing the sessions value. E.g. the mentee doesn’t come prepared or that the mentor is easily distracted by his/her phone during the session.


Thanks to Tiff Willson and Torstein Berteig for reading drafts of this.

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