Getting a mentor is fairly common advice for entrepreneurs these days. But once you’ve found your mentor, how do you make sure that you get the most out of them?
Spending time with your mentor is important. Online communication can help, but mentoring tends to work best face-to-face.
“While this may seem painfully obvious, you aren’t going to get much out of your mentor if you don’t see her/him,” Rik Nemanick, founder of The Leadership Effect, says. “Make sure you have meetings on the calendar, at minimum an hour a month. If you don’t, get some booked. If you and your mentor have a hard time coordinating schedules, make sure you schedule your next three meetings.”
Turning up to any meeting underprepared doesn’t look good, but not preparing for a meeting with a mentor is bad form. Alice Korngold, CEO of Korngold Consulting, has mentored lots of people – from students to corporate executives – and tells Fast Company about one particularly stand out meeting with a mentee: “She didn’t know anything about me. She hadn’t researched my background and couldn’t tell me what she wanted. It was very hard to get traction and it was fractured.
“I felt an imposition that she hadn’t prepared. I think it’s the mentee’s responsibility to do their homework to understand the background, expertise, and value of the mentor, and ask for what they need.”
Mentoring should always be a two-way street and mentees can often offer just as much to their mentor as they receive.
Writer Whitney Johnson says of her mentorship of FinePoint CEO Meredith Fineman: “The fact is I learn from her all the time. And not just in a gee-that’s-sort-of-quaint-that-thing-I-learned from-this-here-millennial. She has superpowers I can only dream of having – how to write fast and effectively, how to title an article, what to say to the press, how to be clever – she also teaches me to brag better.”
Don’t forget your manners
Remember that, while mentors are getting something out of the relationship too – and will often shout from the rooftops how rewarding the experience can be, they are giving up their time free of charge. Freelance writer and coach Stephanie Auteri says it’s important to acknowledge that.
“Know that your mentor is taking precious time out of his or her busy day to help you, so be on time for meetings and phone calls,” she says, adding that you should not forget to show your gratitude for their kindness.
Work at it
Relationships, of all kinds, take work. Expecting a mentor to become a close friend and confident immediately is mostly unrealistic – although for some it will happen.
It takes work from both parties to create a positive mentoring relationship, according to Martin Zwilling, founder of Startup Professionals. But, he warns: “If a mentor proves to be unresponsive or on a different wavelength, bow out of the relationship immediately. Be aware that mentors are usually in a business position that can hurt you as well as help you, so don’t waste their time or antagonise them.”