Let’s make one thing clear — Need is Yours!
You might have heard that having the right mentor, working with better people and learning from right people makes all the difference in the world. Finding a mentor is not easy and it will take a long time (but that is the subject for another blog post. Will try to pen down soon enough). This about how to work with mentors.
Understand about your mentor
Nobody knows everything. It is important for your to understand the strengths and experience of your mentors. It is also important to understand the mentor’s network span. Usually you can ask or just take a look at his/her LinkedIn. If they are active on LinkedIn, then you will get a fair picture through their connections, workplaces, education and so forth.
Set expectations right
Earlier in the relationship, try to set the expectations from either side right. The major expectation setting should be about what aspects do you expect to seek help on? Are they deliverables? Tangibles or intangibles? Are they time bound? How much time per week/month are you expecting? What would be the medium of communication? What does the mentor expect in return?
It is alright if you don’t know all the answers yet, but do think through all of these and more. Don’t be afraid or shy from asking the difficult questions, specially if it is business mentorship.
Make it easy for them
I have got emails saying — “I want to do a project. Can you please help?” or on Quora, questions like “I want to startup, what should I start?” I’m sitting here, reading it and lost. Honestly, I don’t even know what to reply. So while you ask, give enough context (not more), ask specific questions. Also follow simple principles like — keeping your emails/calls short. Whenever you meet, try to go with a time bound agenda. In one word, Respect your mentor’s time, rest should fall into place.
Tip: Anybody would respect you if they feel you are respecting their time and trying to make it easy for them.
Try your best before you reach out
I get Quora A2A — “What are the … Honestly, if you simply do a Google search, then you would have saved your’s and my time. I receive resumes for review with spelling mistakes — he/she could have done a simple word spell check. Right?. Don’t expect your mentors to come down to ground zero to help you out. While they might want to, they might not have the bandwidth to do so. It is again the previous point — make it easy for them. Try your best, ask your peers, search Google and then reach out when you think you have done your best. Your mentor will start appreciating you.
Don’t expect your mentor to decide for you
A mentor is different from your manager. While your manager gives you task, your mentor might (and should) give your directions and leave it to yourself to decide.
Either give you fish or teach you to fish
If your mentor takes decisions for you, then he is basically giving you fishes to eat. You will keep going back for fish every single time. Good mentors will show directions, basically teaches you how to fish. From next time, you will fish yourself and feed yourself.
Own your decisions
Yes, you have a mentor who gave you his advise, sometimes a decision itself. If you are executing that, it is YOU who is executing that. So own that decision yourself and the result of it. It is cowardice to point finger and blame your mentor for your decision. A mentor gets to know only second hand information (you might have failed to give full perspective in the first place). This will make his knowledge limited. So the decisions are made on limited information. So it is imperative that you place your logic on top of advise you receive and make it suited for yourself.
Add value to your mentor
Every network connection should be a genuine two way connection. While your mentor tries to add value you, you can also try to do the same. Value may be introducing a new person, or providing a useful news or insight, or inviting your mentor for a relevant event. Think how you can add value and make it a point to keep doing it on a regular basis.
Any connection will get stronger over time when there is mutual benefit — symbiotism.
Compensate in the best way possible
The starting point is to understand his/her motivation to mentor you. This comes right at the expectation setting phase itself. In some engagements, the compensation might be simple ‘Thank you’, but in some, specially in business arrangements, mentorship is costly and don’t come for free. I’m against all types of upfront payment to the advisor. If there is a fee, then it should be based on conditional milestone. The compensation may be on-success fee or equity, in case of startups.
PS: .25–2.00% is the typical startup equity allocated to startup advisors in the valley.
All the best with having a blossoming relation with your mentor.