Working with a Business Mentor

How to create a mutually rewarding relationship

A mentor will become not only your advisor, but your friend and confidante. That doesn't happen instantly—building trust and personal interest takes time. You set the tone at the outset of the relationship by demonstrating your commitment to the process.

How can you best establish the base on which to build a solid mentoring relationship?

Noah Cirincione of Advance Mentoring, a service that helps locate business mentors, says consistency and preparation are essential.

"Frequency of contact is important in the relationship to keep the learning process moving forward. Each new discussion with the mentor should include updates from the mentee on items the mentor recommended in the previous talk."

He reminds that the mentor should be involved in the big picture, not just the details. "Working together to set the Mentee’s goals can be pivotal. Not only should the mentor/mentee talk about current issues, they should also focus on short and long term goals."

Come to every meeting prepared. Bring a recording device of your choice: pen and paper, PDA, laptop, or voice recorder. Take time to review your notes and to set action items based on your notes. Before your next meeting, review those items and make notes regarding their status. Bring the notes to the next meeting for discussion.

There's more to an effective mentoring relationship than organized meetings, though. Denise Michaels, a marketing expert who works with best-selling authors Robert Allen and Mark Victor Hansen as part of their protege program, has mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs, and has some great advice on the interpersonal aspects of the mentoring relationship:

  • Take an interest in the person as a human being. I have an Internet mentor who makes millions of dollars a year. After I ask my question I always ask him about what’s going on in his life, or share a joke or tell him something funny that’s happened to me. For example yesterday I wrote him and after asking a question I typed, “Tomorrow I’m speaking in a seminar, so right now I’m sitting in my hotel room catching up on emails with hair dye on top of my head.” He wrote back that he laughed so hard he almost fell off his chair. You don’t have to tell your whole life story, but make yourself real and make it light and fun.
  • Don’t say, “I’d like to pick your brain.” My brain “done been picked dry” and I start feeling bored when I hear those words. I know the time I spend with that person is going to be nothing but an interrogation. Instead say, “I would really value your opinion.” It’s much gentler and I get the sense that it will be a more pleasant conversation rather than an interrogation with harsh lights shining down.
  • Don’t try to monopolize a lot of your mentor's time at first. Connect in a way that’s quick and easy. Don’t invite him or her to a dinner that will be a two hour commitment of time. If you’re at a seminar he probably already has meetings scheduled. If it’s at home, he may want some “down-time”. Offer to drive him to the airport or share a cab. Ask what he likes in his coffee or tea, bring him a Starbucks and get 15 quality minutes.
  • Be clear about what you’re doing and what you need. There is so much “murky thinking” in the world. I’m amazed that people feel they have to write five pages to express one idea. That means you don’t really know what you’re talking about. Work on developing a clear elevator speech and mission statement. Think about one or two specific questions you need answered and think about your words and how to ask those questions clearly.
  • Listen, listen, listen to what they say. Don’t think about all the reasons why you can’t. That’s part of the reason why you’re not there yet. Say, “I’m dealing with yada, yada, yada – how would you suggest overcoming those obstacles.
  • Thank the person for their time. Tell them what you’re going to do and then when you take action, be sure to let them know what you’re doing. Always, always, always tell them when you take an action step.
  • Reciprocate once in awhile. If you see a great article that you think he would enjoy – send it to him with a quick note. If you have a trade or a skill and can offer to help him out in some way – offer it. Don’t say, “How can I help you?” Then they have to figure it out. Say, “I’m really very good at _____. If you ever need _____ give me a call, I’ll be more than happy to help out any way I can.” Even if he never takes you up on it, he will appreciate your offer.
  • Learn to make the link between cause and effect. Don’t put your mentor in a position where he/she has to figure it all out for you. You’re not a baby. The job of a mentor is not to take you by the hand every step of the way. It’s to give you some guidance as you’re on your way. Your job is to make the link between what you are told and how you will apply it to your life.

With mutual respect, demonstrated through action as well as attitude, your mentoring relationship can be mutually rewarding.