Mentors can develop into some of your most meaningful and life-changing relationships. A good mentor can make the difference between learning lessons “the hard way” and easily sidestepping mistakes on your entrepreneurial journey. But a mentor can’t be taken for granted; their time is just as valuable as yours, so don’t waste it. It’s important to take the time to prepare, to learn about them, to ask questions and to really put their advice to work.
We asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council for their best tips on fostering a positive and healthy relationship with a mentor.
1. Ask how you can contribute to the relationship.
The best mentoring is not a one-way street. If you can provide value for your mentor, you’ll be miles ahead. Some mentoring relationships are a drain on the mentor because it’s a constant pick-your-brain session. Be direct and ask what kind of value you can provide to the relationship. Sometimes being yourself is enough, but chances are you have a couple things you can teach your mentor.
—Sydney Williams, SYDNEY: unfiltered
2. Shadow them.
I have found having employees shadow their mentors gives them the best opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the business. This way the individual shadowing the mentor can learn all the aspects of the business in a practical way. Another benefit of shadowing is that the employee will learn the most efficient way to work with someone much more experienced than they are.
—Patrick Barnhill, Specialist ID, Inc.
3. Set SMART goals.
Having a mentor might be one of your most beneficial relationships. Sometimes these relationships are required; sometimes you might seek them out. Regardless, when your mentor is speaking, make sure you listen. Ask questions related to their field. Set achievable (SMART: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related) goals.
—Angela McCrory, Rukkus
4. Prepare an agenda.
Know ahead of time what issues you want to discuss and what questions you want to ask, so that you can properly set an agenda with time allotments for each one. It’s important to stick to the agenda so you don’t end up with multiple unresolved issues at the end of the meeting.
—Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile Swim School
5. Bring three specific questions.
You want to use time with your advisor on your most pressing business issues. Come in with up to four specific questions you would like to resolve at the meeting. Most mentors like dealing with these sticky issues and will leave the meeting feeling good, too.
—John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation
6. Ask for honest feedback.
The feedback that makes us want to dig in our heels the most is often the most valuable. Although cheerleading is good, you should also let mentors know you value any constructive criticism and feedback. That way, they won’t hold back and can deliver the strategic advice you need most.
—Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital
7. Take an active approach.
The least useful mentoring experiences I’ve had involved mentees who were passive participants. They didn’t think about what I said or respond thoughtfully. They didn’t ask questions that showed they understood or needed clarification. The best mentees were actively engaged, challenged me to explain clearly and developed their own solutions to problems before talking to me.
—Vik Patel, Future Hosting
8. Look at the bigger picture.
Finding mentorship has become a trendy thing to do in the last 10 years, but don’t do it for the sake of doing it. Look to build real relationships. The easiest way to do this is to send a follow-up email with a progress report on how the meeting impacted you after it ends. This will make the mentor feel as if their time was actually worth spending.
—Fan Bi, Blank Label
What would you add to this list?
Related: 10 Ways to Find Your Ideal Mentor