I just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and the “Are You My Mentor?” chapter really stood out for me. It highlighted an issue I’ve grappled with for years: how awkward and ineffective a formal mentorship can be.
There’s already plenty of advice for young people on how to be good mentees. But as someone who has been both a mentor and a mentee, I want to provide some solid tips to mentors instead, so they can guide their mentees in a more meaningful way:
- Don’t say you’re open to mentoring young entrepreneurs unless you have time. While I believe that most mentoring should happen organically, if you do volunteer to be an advisor or a mentor for a formal program, make the time. Leaving young entrepreneurs hanging is the equivalent of having an amazing date and never calling again: not a good look. If you’re excited about a young entrepreneur, email them back (even if it’s just to say you’re busy and will follow-up in a month).
- Don’t call yourself a mentor on the first date. I recently had a man I’d never met before introduce me to a woman (who I had also never met) by saying: “We really loved your pitch. I wanted to introduce you to my colleague. I think she would make a really great mentor for you.” The woman then concurred and said, “I’d really love to be your mentor.” It felt like someone was proposing marriage on the first date. It was tough to respond because I didn’t know anything about the woman, I didn’t know why she thought she’d be a good mentor, and I had no idea how she defined mentoring. If you want to be someone’s mentor, be cool. Don’t come out of the gates asking for a mentorship relationship. Let the relationship evolve.
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