In business, particularly with regards to startups and entrepreneurship, people learn by doing. Experience is what drives positive outcomes – it is what distinguishes one entrepreneur from another, what allows one entrepreneur to avoid pitfalls common to those who are inexperienced. But though it is important to gain experience from actually doing, another way to internalize experience is by learning from that of others, people we like to call mentors.
These people could range in age, gender, industry, etc., but ultimately, they would hypothetically have relevant experience with regards to your domain interests, which would allow them to provide pertinent advice that would prevent the aforementioned pitfalls that you would otherwise fall into.
Mentors can be family, friends, professionals – you name it. Regardless of who your mentor is, someone more experienced than you are would surely be apt to provide insights that are different from yours, perhaps thereby changing the way you think. As a result, it is important to do these three things.
1. Be receptive to advice
At times, you might hear a thing or two from your mentor that you might not necessarily agree with. Though it is important to always maintain your own set of beliefs, it is likewise important to take into account that your mentor knows a whole lot more than you do about industry, particular in their domain expertise.
When a mentor’s words are contrary to your own beliefs, it is important to be receptive to advice, be open to the possibility that you are just flat out wrong in your perception of a given subject matter. In my experience, however, I also feel that mentors who are receptive to hearing mentees’ thoughts is also important to the learning process of the mentee. Inquisitive mentees are apt to disagree with mentors at one point or another, but it is after receiving some level of justification for why the mentee is incorrect that he/she is able to fully internalize a concept.
But that very fact is why it is important to be open-minded. Being stringent in the way that one thinks is almost a tragic flaw in the learning process for some people. It is important to think about the notion that one can learn something from just about every other person, and thinking microcosmically about the type of advice that experienced mentors put forward further reinforces the notion that one’s mentors may have experiences on a different wavelength from your own.
2. Respect your mentors
At some point, you need to realize that your mentors are very busy people. Some of my personal mentors have been very kind in giving me their personal phone numbers and letting me know that I would be welcome to call them at any point in time in case I had a question or two. The truth is, however, your mentors are people too. Perhaps they have kids to take care of. Perhaps they’re on a number of other advisory boards. The bottom line is, whoever your advisor is, they have a slew of other commitments to juggle so there are a number of best practices that one should keep in mind while managing a relationship with an advisor or mentor.
- Be prepared for meetings: Because your mentors likely do not have a lot of free time, it is always important to set up prepared meetings where you have points of discussion ready to go. When you have something you want to chat about that requires the review of a document, it is important to send those before each meeting. Reviewing documents during a call is something that nobody ever wants to do; doing so is both inefficient and time-sucking.
- Be courteous in communications: Make sure you let your mentors know that you appreciate their help. They have absolutely no obligation to take time out of their busy schedules to help you so it is important that you understand that as a mentee and are genuinely appreciative of the fact that your mentor has even taken a minute out of their day to invest into your betterment.
- Know when to ask for help: It is important to ask for help only when you cannot figure something out. Mentors are people who are there to help you but it is not always possible for them to help you on every little obstacle you have. It is important to value their time as more important than your own. You can figure most things out on your own and perhaps prepare a few inquiries that you cannot personally figure out for meetings with your mentor or advisor.
3. Think of ways to reciprocate value
Oftentimes, young entrepreneurs expect a mentorship to be a one-sided relationship, where they only take value from their mentors. While it is true that in most cases it is difficult to bring value to mentors, there are times where mentors are also looking to learn more about things such as thinking patterns of your demographic or otherwise. Sometimes you find ways to contribute to the work that your mentor is doing – perhaps helping your mentor with a blog that he or she is writing.
The point is, whether or not your mentor asks of you a favor is arbitrary. Either way, it is important to be empathetic. Just like in every other type of relationship, whether it is thinking about your friends, business partners, and otherwise, it is important to put yourself in your collaborator’s shoes – to think about things that you could do that would be helpful to your advisor.
Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.