Are You Mentor Material?

Q: I’ve been approached by a young man who asked if I would be his mentor. I’m flattered by his interest, but I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a mentor. In your opinion what makes a good mentor?
– Kenneth P.

The mentor/mentee relationship is very much like that of a parent and child. The younger, less experienced child mentee will look to you, the older, more experienced parent mentor, for guidance, wisdom and advice. They will come to you with questions and expect you to have all the answers. They will bring to you their problems and expect you to solve them. And if you don’t give them the attention they think they deserve they may pout and complain about you to all their friends.

In short, if kids get on your nerves, Kenneth, don’t even think about being a mentor. Buy a goldfish or even better, a rubber plant. They require far less attention and everyone will be much happier in the long run.

Typically, there are three things every good mentor should have: time, patience, and a genuine desire to help another person succeed without expecting anything in return. If you have an abundance of those things, then being a mentor can be a highly rewarding experience. If not, please see the rubber plant reference above.

Why do some people make excellent mentors while others do not? It’s all about motive. Are your reasons for being a mentor unselfish or are they self indulgent? Are you considering becoming a mentor because you truly feel that a mentee might benefit from your wisdom and experience or is it because you like being the center of someone else’s adoration?

You should not become a mentor just to feed your own ego because you will be doing your mentee a great injustice because there will be no give and take to the relationship. I know many successful entrepreneurs who consider themselves mentors, but truth be told they simply revel in holding court and having younger entrepreneurs hang on their every word as if its gospel. They care less about hearing their mentee’s questions than they do about hearing the sound of their own voice.

As my mama would say, “If you talk just to hear your own head rattle,” then mentoring is not for you.

One of the keys to a successful mentor/mentee relationship is to set some ground rules and stick to them. Sit down with your prospective mentee and discuss the expectations of both parties, i.e. what do you and the mentee expect to get out of the relationship? It’s a given that the mentee is seeking your time, wisdom and advice, but if you as the mentor don’t also get some kind of mental satisfaction your interest in the relationship will quickly wane.

Discuss how often you will get together. Will you meet for lunch once a week or for an hour in your office several times a month? It is important that you create an actual meeting schedule and stick to it. Without a set schedule life will get in the way and you will cancel more meetings than you attend.

Next, set some guidelines and limitations. How often can your mentee call? Is it OK for them to call your cellphone or should they go through your secretary? Can they drop by the office anytime? Can they call you at home after 5pm?

Set some goals for the mentee. Assign them homework, give them a task. The relationship must be more than just chewing the fat. The point is to help the mentee grow, personally and professionally. Give them a list of books to read. Recommend seminars they should attend. Have them outline their business goals in writing, then you set milestones and hold them accountable for reaching them.

From your side of the fence, don’t be afraid to share your successes and failures. Let your experience be their guide. Help them identify opportunities and avoid pot holes that you may have hit along the way. Don’t be embarrassed to tell the truth, especially if it can keep your mentee from making the same mistakes you did.

As a mentor you should also introduce your mentee into your circle of friends and associates. Sponsor them into Rotary, take them to luncheons, and introduce them to others who might also help their careers.

Being a good mentor also means that you are a confidant; your mentee will share not only his business problems and goals, but also his personal feelings, his secrets, his plans, and his angst. Respect the mentee’s privacy. Your discussions should not be fodder for your next poker night. When something is told in confidence, respect that or get out of the mentor business.

One final point, a successful mentor/mentee relationship should not be a temporary relationship, but one that in ongoing, that grows and evolves until the day you are no long mentor and mentee, but peers.

My own mentor, who probably has no clue that he holds that spot in my life, started out as an investor in one of my companies. As our business relationship grew so did our friendship and I found myself calling on him many times for advice. We eventually became business partners and today we are peers.

I tell him he is the entrepreneur I want to be when I grow up.

He tells me to shut up and pay for lunch.

That’s how the process should work.

Here’s to your success!