Leaders of companies of all sizes have advocated the benefits of mentoring. Some of the world’s most successful businessmen and women attribute their earliest successes to the guidance they received from a mentor, and many develop long-lasting relationships that continue to prove beneficial to both parties into the future. While young entrepreneurs receive priceless advice, direction, and coaching from more experienced professionals, the mentors themselves are able to develop their leadership skills, earn industry credibility, and see new perspectives that benefit their own work.
Because of the potential benefits it can yield and the time and effort involved, it is a major responsibility to accept a request for mentorship from a less experienced entrepreneur. To do the job sufficiently, seasoned professionals should adhere to the following set of do’s and don’ts when taking on a role as a mentor.
DO establish functional boundaries.
The first thing that needs to be established when a mentor-mentee partnership begins is a set of professional boundaries that enhance the quality of the mentoring experience. A mentor should be clear about the things that he or she is comfortable giving advice about, while a mentee should be frank about the kind of support he or she is hoping to earn through the relationship. If the expectations of both parties are balanced, both mentor and mentee are more likely to profit from the experience. A mentor should also take the initiative to convey to what degree he or she will be accessible to the mentee via phone, email, and/or in-person meetings.
DON’T hand your mentee all the answers.
The role of a mentor is not to do the mentee’s work, or swoop in and solve all their problems. Instead of always dictating what the mentee should do, an effective mentor is a practiced listener capable of providing constructive feedback when asked. The best mentor guides a protégé through the process of tackling new challenges, assisting in the development of new skills that will push the mentee further along the path of professional growth. Telling mentees what to do is necessary sometimes, but teaching them to acquire the tools to problem-solve independently will serve them better. In general, try to ask more questions than you answer.
DON’T take on a mentee you don’t have time for.
Ambitious people who seek a mentee-mentor partnership are often the busiest professionals. While a solicitation for mentorship from a promising entrepreneur can be flattering, it’s better to decline the request if your schedule simply does not have room to accommodate it. A talented mentor who cannot respond to requests for advice in a timely manner cannot deliver the kind of benefits that the relationship is meant to yield. Be honest about your availability and do not take on the responsibility if there is no place for it at that point in your career.
DO facilitate networking opportunities.
A mentor shares many resources with his or her protégé. Apart from the useful knowledge gleaned from your own past experiences and other resources that have helped you, a mentor may also consider sharing professional connections who have benefitted him or her along the path to success. Though the mentee shouldn’t automatically expect this, providing new entrepreneurs with the opportunity to network with people who may benefit their business shows generosity and a commitment to the protégé’s success. You may be responsible for connecting your mentee to the partner who changes the trajectory of his or her career.
DON’T forget to be honest.
While those in a mentoring role should show mentees support and encouragement, it is also the responsibility of a mentor to tell a protégé the difficult things that he or she may not want to hear. The best mentor is there to help put the pieces back together in the event of a mistake, but he or she should also be willing to present a mentee with the truth in ways that other professionals will not. You won’t do your mentee any favors by holding back criticism. An honest critique can help a new entrepreneur kick the bad business practices, behaviors, or mindsets that could be holding them back from success.
DO feel pride when a mentee is successful.
A mentee who takes your advice, puts it to good use, and creates success for themselves should inspire you to feel proud. The success of a new entrepreneur who grows in business, in part, through your guidance should be seen as a reflection of your abilities as a mentor—and definitely not as a potential threat. If the prospect of a protégé finding greater success troubles you, mentoring may not be a professional endeavor that you should pursue. Otherwise, celebrate with your mentee as he or she experiences both small professional victories and game-changing wins.