July 8, 2020 - 3:43 pm

Defining Your Mentoring Needs – An Important Asset in Your Business

By 20Fathoms
Coffee, hello nametag

The impact of mentors across all spectrums of life cannot be understated. Whether it’s a varsity athlete taking a freshman under their wing or a serial entrepreneur providing nuggets of wisdom to a fledgling startup – the value of that relationship can be truly impactful to both participants. And while much has been written about what it takes to be a mentor, it’s just as important to learn what it takes to be a great mentee.

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

Starting at the beginning, the maxim “know thyself” has been the basis of success from ancient times to present. As with many things, knowing what you need out of a relationship will shape who you approach as well as what you ask of them. If you are not sure what type of mentor you’re looking to engage, ask yourself a short set of questions.

  • Am I simply looking for someone to open doors to a corporate contact and/or make customer introductions?
  • Should I look to engage with a mentor to navigate a short-term challenge, as opposed to someone who can assist with a longer-term strategy?
  • Will I be asking my mentor to vouch for me or use some of their cachet to help me excel?

The Connector

If you answered yes to the first question, you’re looking for a connector. This is someone who can grok your product and business model well enough to understand who you need to be introduced to and in what sequence. The connectors make warm introductions for you, provide context for the other parties as to why you should be in their network, and streamline opportunities with the major industry leaders and financiers you’ve targeted in your strategic plans.

Connectors aren’t interested in a quid pro quo, but there are actions that you must take as a mentee to facilitate this relationship.

  • Be as clear as possible as to the connections that you are looking to make. In some cases, you may have a name and LinkedIn profile, but in others you could have a title and industry (such as a senior engineer in a Tier One automotive supplier) or a job descriptor (such as the staff responsible for making their software procurement decisions).
  • Write 2-3 sentences to help the connector facilitate the introduction. It might slightly differ for each introduction so ensure that you’re specific.
  • Follow up quickly (within 24 hours) once connections have been made to ensure the association doesn’t go stale. BCC the connector on your response so they see the follow up, but their inbox doesn’t get flooded with scheduling messages.

Connectors are incredibly valuable and generous assets in our ecosystem. They use their golden rolodex to create broad impact for the companies around them. If there’s great business chemistry, this relationship could blossom into something a bit more involved, but if not, be glad for those great introductions and move along.

The Coach

When answering the second question, if the assistance you need is something more episodic or short term – such as advice on preparing a proposal, negotiating deal terms, or making a key hire, you’re looking for a coach. These types of mentors are wonderful for helping with focused deliverables and specific questions. Their wealth of knowledge and battle scars can help inform your challenge and their interventions can often save you hours of stress and legal bills. To get the most value out of this relationship, consider the following:

  • Give your mentor the critical information without overwhelming them with emotion or petty details. This isn’t their first – or hundredth – rodeo. Good coaches can objectively view a personal or messy business situation and dispassionately take you through your options. They’ll outline a range of avenues along with the pros and cons – and give you a set of recommendations which may or may not work for you.
  • Follow up. If you find value in their counsel, be sure to follow up with them to let them know how the situation unfolded. Was the crisis averted; did the deal close?
  • Evaluate the relationship. Alternatively, if you find that you don’t find their counsel useful, particularly after a couple of meetings, thank them for their time and go elsewhere for support. Like any other relationship, mentors and mentees need a chemistry and an understanding. If it’s not happening, move on. You’ve both got better things to do with your time.

The Sponsor

If the third question really resonated with you and you’re looking for someone who will leverage their prestige to help, then you’re looking for a sponsor. This is someone who has earned a significant amount of professional or personal capital in their industry or geography. A sponsor could link you to a prestigious board opportunity, vouch for you to keynote an industry conference, or help promote legislation that would impact your business. Because they’re being asked to leverage their reputation to help, they’re typically someone that either knows you relatively well or is passionate about the pain point that you or your business is solving.

Sponsors need to attain a much deeper understanding of your business than the connectors. They are using their cachet, connections, and standing to help you and as such are very careful. Recommending an unprincipled person can stain their reputation and diminish their hard-earned prestige.

Once the sponsor has fulfilled the request – your goal should be to make them look smart for helping you. Ace that keynote, work hard with your board engagement, and bring sizable value to the opportunities they provide for you. Particularly if you’re looking for a longer term relationship with the sponsor, be additive and generous within their network and you will find the some of their professional capital may extend to you.

Make Good Choices

Recognizing what you need is the first step in the journey; identifying that person is next. Like any relationship, a positive mentor/mentee fit will provide significant rewards, while a bad connection will, at best, waste time. We’ll dig into mentor choice in the second installment of this series. Stay tuned!