Confused About the Mentoring Process? 6 Tips to Help

These six tips help you take a casual, flexible approach to the mentor relationship.

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By Poornima Vijayashanker • Aug 28, 2013

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Everyone thinks they need one, everyone really wants one and we all struggle when it comes to getting one. I'm talking about mentors.

Subconsciously, when we think of mentors we immediately think of mentorship, which seems formal and distant. It's complicated by the fact that good mentors are most likely to be busy people, consumed with building their business or company. While mentors might like to take time out of their schedule to check-in with you, it might be hard to pin down an hour for an in-person conversation each week and that can be discouraging.

Luckily, a mentor relationship doesn't have to be formal, complicated or time-consuming. As a mentor myself, I've pulled together these six tips to help demystify the process.

Approach the mentorship casually. Work with your mentor's schedule. Does your mentor have an hour for a video chat? Great! 30 minutes for a power walk? Super. Create the schedule that works best for the two of you. Know that you can still expect that they focus that time on you. If your mentor's attention is too divided during your meetings, ask if there's another setting or platform that might work better. If that's not possible, you might consider seeking out another mentor who can dedicate more time to the relationship.

Create your own panel of experts. Commitment-phobes can rest easy: You can have many mentors. Too often we think we need commit to just one mentor, but no one mentor could possibly help you through all the problems your business might face.

Value true experts. Generalists only know a little bit about a lot of things and often you'll want to reach out to people with a particular expertise. Wouldn't you rest assured knowing your financial mentor is a whiz when it comes to numbers, but might just suck at sales and marketing?

Follow up. It's your responsibility to keep up with your mentors because you're the one asking for help. This doesn't make you a burden or a pest. Ask them how they'd like you to follow up and keep up your end of the bargain.

Ask for help. Be as specific as possible about problems you're experiencing to make it easier for people to give you guidance. Just be prepared for honesty. Know too, that when you're really specific, some people just won't have the expertise to help you. But this won't be a concern for you because you'll have sought out a number of experts or know to ask your mentor for someone else who's willing to chat.

Flexibility has its rewards. About a year ago, a software engineer named Diana reached out to me via Twitter because she saw that I was not only a software engineer but a startup founder who was leading a team. She had just been promoted to team lead but since she had been a contractor for many years, her leadership skills were a little rusty. I was happy provide her with some guidance related to technical leadership. But since I was on the West Coast and Diana on the East Coast, we could only talk on the phone. Sometimes, when our schedules were tight, we switched from phone calls to emails. Still, the relationship was flexible and easy. So much so, if I hadn't heard from her, I would check in on her. When I traveled to her hometown on a speaking engagement, I made sure to meet up in person. As a result we were able to cultivate a healthy mentorship experience throughout the past year.

You don't need to apply every piece of advice mentors give you, but to grow you should seek out new perspectives. You'll even outgrow your mentors, but if you've approached the process correctly, you'll have learned from them regardless.

Poornima Vijayashanker

Founder of Femgineer

Poornima Vijayashanker is the founder of Femgineer, an education services company dedicated to helping tech professionals and entrepreneurs better themselves in product development, communication, and leadership.

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