The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a mentor as a trusted counselor or guide. One of the first records of a “mentor” is found in Homer’s The Odyssey. When Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom and his son to Mentor, a wise and trusted counselor, who had also been given the task of educating Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.
It is exciting being an entrepreneur but it also can be lonely at times. Often the start of a journey as a self-employed business professional can be fraught with uncertainties and it can be helpful to have a mentor, someone who has already walked the path, has experience and can impart some of their wisdom and experience to you and support you along the way.
Mentors can provide support, accountability and can also be used as a sounding board. They can help set boundaries and they can also give the unfiltered objective truth. This relationship is not only valuable for the mentee but can also be very useful for the mentor. A mentor wants to give something back to the community, and help someone else who is just starting out on their own. There is the satisfaction of supporting someone and seeing them flourish and be successful. This relationship can also enable the mentor to re-evaluate some of their own work practices and business decisions, and it can also possibly spark some new ideas and collaborations. Rachel Miller from All Things IC Blog started mentoring because she realized how many lessons she could share from all the mistakes that she has made, problems she has solved and issues she has faced over the years and that she could help others avoid the tricky parts by sharing the routes that she has taken.
For me, personally, the motivation is to support other women who are making a career change, as I did, and to support those that are particularly marginalized or disadvantaged in some way, which is why I volunteer my time as a mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and also actively mentor other women who are finding their creative confidence. Working from a diverse group of women from around the world has also been crucial for me to understand and acknowledge any unconscious biases that I might have been carrying with me.
But, what makes a good mentor-mentee relationship?
Much like any other relationship, a mentor-mentee relationship takes work from both sides. Here are some of the key factors for a successful mentor-mentee relationship:
- Research: It is important to choose a mentor carefully to ensure a good start. Catherine Gladwyn from Delegate VA recommends looking at LinkedIn and social media to get a sense of the mentor’s past experience. She also recommends looking up Companies House to see how long they have been in business, what kind of growth they’ve had, and what kind of business they have built. Don’t just take testimonials as a reference; instead, do your own research to ensure that you start on the best foot possible. It is very important to work with someone who has been where you are, and they have experienced the highs and lows to be where you want to be in your business in a few years’ time.
- Communication: Honesty and trust are essential to a successful partnership. Commitment is key to making the partnership work. It is the responsibility of the mentee to prepare an agenda in advance and take the initiative in the meetings as the mentor is there to guide them and impart wisdom and knowledge. The mentor should be open, direct and honest and provide an objective perspective. The mentor is also there to hold the mentee accountable and remind them of their overall business goals. Offering positive but sincere feedback will keep the mentee motivated. Allow a non-judgemental and non-biased platform where the mentee feels comfortable discussing their business ideas without fear. A good mentor also challenges and encourages the mentee to step outside their comfort zone and take calculated risks. Katherine Bryant from The Progress Partnership asserts that it is very important to have robust foundations for the partnership for establishing trust and credibility and to have a clear understanding of respective goals and expectations. Such a strong foundation can be built by sharing any potential roadblocks, issues, and concerns early on.
- Respect: This has to be really one of the most important factors in determining the success of a good professional relationship. The mentee has to have a huge amount of respect for the mentor, for their achievements and for their commitment to mentoring, as the mentor is giving their valuable time for mentoring, often voluntarily and for no fees. Mutual respect leads to clearer boundaries that keep the relationship professional and on the right track. It is also important to have a clear idea of respective roles, as well as be aware of any explicit or hidden biases that could potentially affect the relationship.
The mentor’s role is to provide guidance, encouragement, and support, while the mentee’s role is to ask for help when needed, set the agenda for the meetings, establish clear lines of communication, maintain contact, and learn. However, not all such relationships are fruitful. In this case, it is also important to evaluate and assess whether the goals and expectations are being met and if the meetings are productive. Clear, open, honest communication will help both the mentor and the mentee in determining whether the relationship has run its course and if it should be brought to a close. Although many mentor-mentee relationships can progress into friendship, it is a business partnership and should be treated like one.