ENTREPRENEURSHIP / JUN. 11, 2014
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How to Make the Most of Your Relationship with Your Startup Mentor

There is nothing quite as gratifying as a strong mentor-mentee relationship in the business world. Many of the most successful businesspeople working today credit their success - at least partially - to a great mentor early in their career. When it works, the support and insider knowledge it provides is invaluable. When you’re just starting out in a new business, a mentor should be high on your list of priorities. Startup accelerators and incubators make finding one fast and easy, connecting you with a wide variety of people willing to help, and for that reason alone should be a consideration. But a good mentor can be found via other methods, too. Do your research to find the right match.

Far from being a passive activity when you’re the mentee, the best mentorships take work. In fact, it is really  up to you to drive the working relationship and get the most out of it. Once you’ve found the perfect fit, make sure you do what you need to do to keep it moving forward and mutually beneficial. Here are a few good ideas.

1. Get Organised

Time is money, right? Don’t ever meet up with your mentor without having a detailed agenda of the things you want and need to discuss. Don’t waste their or your time. Plan out in advance everything you want to talk about, so that you can quickly get down to business. Keep a running record of things as they occur between meetings. That way, you have a list ready to go without any serious effort, and you’re less likely to forget something.

2. Get Proactive

As the mentee, don’t fall into the trap of believing the mentor should always contact you, should always schedule a meeting with you, should always be the one reaching out. It doesn’t work that way. Mentors appreciate ambition and drive, so don’t be afraid to initiate contact when you need to do so. You don’t want to call them over every single little detail and decision, but nor do you want to sit by the phone waiting for them, either (Why won’t she call?!). Reach out. Cultivate a good working relationship. Utilise their skills and expertise...that’s why they are mentors in the first place.

3. Remember That Your Mentor wants to Help

This is obviously closely connected to #2, but it bears repeating. Your mentor has agreed to this relationship, has volunteered their time, because they want to help. Remember that. You shouldn’t feel bad about seeking their advice or bouncing a few ideas off of them. They signed up for this, knowing exactly what to expect.

4. Follow-up on Their Suggestions and Advice

After a meeting (in person, via email, or on the phone), take the advice given, use what you can, implement it, and then follow-up with them soon afterwards. Keep them involved. This is good for you (you cultivate the relationship, and get further input as you work towards or tweak something as per their suggestions) and them (they want to see that you are taking advantage of the time and knowledge they are providing, and it helps to get them personally invested in your success). Share the outcome(s) of their advice whenever you can. They'll appreciate it.

5. Don’t Take It Personally

Your mentor is there to help you succeed. At least initially...the mentorship may evolve into friendship down the road. As a startup mentee, you should understand that you don’t know everything. Your ideas may be flawed, wrong, or downright dumb, and your mentor may tell you that sometimes. Don’t take it personally. It’s not an attack on you. It’s how you get better and more knowledgeable about the way things are (or should be) done. There’s no point sulking if and when they shoot down one of your ideas. Take the criticism, ask how to make it better, and try again. In fact, a mentor that never tells you that you’re wrong or off-course is probably not a great mentor in the first place. So don’t be afraid to make a mistake, and hope that your mentor will call you on it when you do.

6. Take It All with a Healthy Sense of Skepticism

The flipside of that coin (being wrong and being corrected) is that you shouldn’t just blindly accept everything they tell you. Things change, and maybe (just maybe) you know more about a particular new technique or trend in your industry. Yes, they have been around a lot longer than you, and yes, they have an established record of success, but that doesn’t make them immune to outdated or even wrong thinking at times. When you encounter something that goes against something you know (or think you know), discuss it. Talk to them about it. Explain from your perspective and understanding. Don’t just stew about it or ignore it. It’s supposed to be a partnership.

7. Ask for Clarification. Ask Questions.

When you don’t get it, admit it. When you don’t understand something, say you don’t understand it. Pretending that you understand when you don’t is the biggest waste of time. No, they won’t be disappointed with you. No, they won’t think that you’re stupid. Remember - they are there because they want to pass on their knowledge and help the next generation of innovators and trailblazers. So let them. Never pretend.

Relationship. Friendship. Partnership. Mentorship. Those things have a lot more in common than you might think at first (besides the obvious “-ship” connection). It’s about working together, watching out for one another, and mutual respect. Do your part, let them do theirs, and you’ll both benefit.

Check out 12 Powerful Questions You Can Ask a Mentor for some great ideas on taking the initiative and being proactive with yours. Now...get out there, find one, and succeed.

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

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