Entrepreneurs who turn to mentors for guidance have a demonstrated record of success. According to a 2014 survey, around 70 percent of small businesses led by owners who had mentors were able to sustain operations for more than five years—twice the rate of companies headed up by leaders without mentors. Mentors glean valuable professional benefits from these relationships, as well, as studies show that a leader who serves as a business mentor may be 20 percent more likely to receive a raise and six times more likely to earn a promotion than his or her peers.
While some of the most accomplished professionals in history found success with the help of a mentor, a partnership between a mentor and mentee can only yield these benefits if the experience is a positive one. Mentors who want to cultivate a positive relationship with their mentees should learn to recognize and identify the following three factors that can build a good partnership:
1. Mentor someone with similar personality traits
You should consider personal compatibility long before agreeing to become someone’s mentor. While many entrepreneurs share common qualities such as adaptability, determination, and a strong desire to learn, dissimilar personality traits between a mentor and mentee may diminish the effectiveness of their professional connection. The same principles apply to partnerships in which a mentor’s coaching strategy does not align with a mentee’s learning style.
In order to avoid this problem, you should be thorough when asking questions about a potential mentee’s goals. Learn about your mentee’s professional roadmap for the next five years, and determine what he or she expects to gain from the relationship. At the same time, explain your personal approach to mentorship so that a potential mentee can decide if it will suit his or her personality. Is your mentoring relationship friendly, casual, and unstructured, and does it consist of an open-ended offer to be available when problems arise? Or will you primarily be a connector: a mentor who introduces the mentee to the right people and steers him or her toward success through powerful relationships?
Evaluate this conversation in order to determine whether or not mentorship will be beneficial for both of you. Taking this step can help you avoid frustration and disappointment during the mentoring process.
2. Devote adequate time to the partnership
Mentorship can only be useful to both parties involved if the mentor has adequate time to commit to the process. Well-intentioned yet busy business professionals may commit to mentoring, but later find it difficult to make time for their mentees due to their already hectic schedules.
Professionals who are asked to serve as mentors are often the same business leaders whose full schedules keep them working from early morning to late at night. Even so, those who choose to become mentors must be prepared to make available a reasonable amount of time for their mentees in order to maintain a good relationship. Although you may not always be available to meet with your mentee in person, you should be sure to respond to phone calls and emails within a practical timeframe and give questions and concerns your full attention. Being present and giving meaningful feedback can have an immeasurably positive impact on the mentoring relationship.
If you agree to serve as a mentor but neglect the needs of your mentee, you run the risk of damaging the individual’s ego and slowing business velocity. This can be especially problematic for a new entrepreneur who needs to remain in motion for his or her business to thrive.
3. Offer balanced feedback
As a mentor, you must strike a delicate balance between offering motivation and honest feedback, as well as allowing your mentee to pursue his or her own professional vision. When you find this balance, you will create a positive dynamic and encourage your mentee’s potential success.
In addition, mentors should try to avoid providing their mentees with excessive feedback. Eventually, this can reduce the mentee’s enthusiasm and motivation, slow the growth of the startup, and increase animosity between the mentor and mentee. At the same time, this lack of interest from mentees can leave their mentors feeling as though their efforts to foster the relationship were pointless and drive a wedge between the two parties.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, mentors who are not sufficiently candid with their mentees at crucial points in their professional development may create resentment. When times become difficult, a mentor may choose to err on the side of empathy rather than give tough yet necessary advice, but this will not help the mentee in the long run. An effective mentor will be adept at gauging when to show support and when to deliver tough assessments that push entrepreneurs toward success.