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Ann Arbor Spark

March 6, 2018

Four keys to a successful mentorship

Part one in SPARK’s three-part entrepreneur mentoring series.
As an early-stage entrepreneur, you may be wondering if it could be useful to have a mentor or guide to help you navigate the journey ahead. It’s important to understand that having a mentor is not right for everyone — and not every mentor is right for you. If you decide to pursue a mentorship, it is essential to find the best mentor that meets your specific needs. Factors to consider are your company culture, your industry, your product, and your personality.
Once you’ve found a mentor that fits the above criteria, here are four keys to help ensure that the mentoring is a success.

  1. Develop a relationship of trust and respect. Relationships need to be built before any effective mentoring can take place. An environment of trust and mutuality must be established. It is important for the mentor and mentee to become acquainted with each other. The mentor should help the mentee identify his or her professional needs and goals. The mentor should learn about the mentee’s educational background and experience, and share information about his or her own background and experience. The mentor can then continue to build upon the mentee’s strengths, needs, and goals throughout the mentoring period.
  2. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of both the mentor and the mentee. Typically, a mentee is more receptive to feedback if he or she feels like an active participant in the relationship. Start with the question: What are the responsibilities of the mentee and mentor? For example, the mentee may be required to attend specific training given by the mentor or complete a certain number of mutually determined goals during the mentoring period.
  3. Mentors and mentees should work together to develop mutually agreed upon goals. These goals become the basis for the mentoring activities. Mentors need to provide constructive feedback to mentees on goal progression. Mentees should have an opportunity to be reflective on their actions and be given feedback to review. Mentors must be skilled at actively listening to concerns. Feelings are important, and greater trust is established when a mentee feels he or she can safely share thoughts and feelings with the mentor. Timing is everything. Mentors must be sensitive to the timing of feedback. If emotions are high or a mentee seems defensive, mentors need to back off and reschedule another time for giving feedback or address the perceived barriers. Value each other’s feedback. Even experienced teachers can learn new ways of thinking and doing things.
  4. Collaborate to Solve Problems. Mentors need to allow mentees the opportunity to identify concerns and potential solutions. Mentors should encourage mentees to take risks and do things differently by implementing creative solutions.

Good mentors will provide guidance, ask difficult questions, help you avoid mistakes, and may not always tell you what you want to hear. The best mentor and mentee relationships will start with a relationship built on respect and collaboration.
The second installment of our mentoring series will help you participate in a “designed alliance” with your mentor.