We would discuss their business ideas, areas of study, commitment levels, etc. Occasionally, we would also get into spirited discussions on how well they were doing as a mentee or “client”. Was it enjoyable to work with them and why/not? Did they make progress? Were they truly benefiting from the assistance they were receiving?
It turns out those are the same questions I still ask myself as I continue to mentor entrepreneurs, mostly those who are no longer students. And from the answers, I’ve come up with a simple list of five things that can help make the mentoring process so much more effective and enjoyable for both parties.
- Have an agenda. Ideally, it’s a list of 3-5 questions that are most critical to you at that point in time, or the ones that you believe your mentor is able to address. It helps show that you prepared and thought about the meeting in advance, are respectful of the time you’ll spend together, and that you are focused.
- Listen actively. Show your mentor that you actually care and are zoned in on the conversation. Avoid interrupting, unless it’s due to a long monologue that isn’t really answering the questions you have. Make eye contact, show emotion, and use body language. And above all, don’t check your phone for messages.
- Take notes. Write down key ideas, experiences, sound bites, action items, etc. Personally, I like to organize my own notes in two columns – “what I’m hearing” and “what I’m thinking”. Taking notes gives you a record of the meeting and helps with the next two items.
- Follow through. This one is simple: do the things that you say you will do. And if you don’t, know why you didn’t.
- Follow up. This is different from following through, which is about getting things done. Following up is the communication back to your mentor. Ideally, it’s a week after the meeting and just a quick note telling him/her what you have, or haven’t, been able to accomplish. It should also be done at the start of future discussions.
If you mentor often, I’m curious what other suggestions you have. And I’d love to hear from mentees what we mentors can do to make such relationships more valuable for them.