Startup Lessons: How To Be a Good Mentee

Lines intersect.  As I was preparing to join Unreasonable@Sea as a mentor to 11 amazing high-impact businesses, I received an email from Joni Cobb, CEO of the Pipeline Entrepreneurs program based in the Midwest.   Pipeline identifies high-potential entrepreneurs and puts them through an intense year-long program of business and personal development before joining an elite group of Fellows who are leading the way to a vibrant startup ecosystem in the Midwest.  The program assigns each entrepreneur a local and a national entrepreneur, a core enabler to building a valuable business network.

“What,” Joni asked, even as I was thinking about how to be a good mentor, “are the top 10 ways to work/not work with a mentor?”

My list came pretty quickly:

  1. Be present.  Respect your mentor by bringing your whole self to your interactions.
  2. Be vulnerable.  Take the risk of opening yourself to critic, challenge, and feedback.  Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  3. Be honest.  True guidance comes from true input.  You’ll get the best and most useful advice if you don’t sugar coat the truth. 
  4. Be forthcoming.  A mentor can’t help you if you’re not sharing complete information.  That one piece of the story that feels awkward or embarrassing may be the key to finding a better way.
  5. Be independent.  You don’t need your mentor’s permission to make decisions.  Go. Do.  Then debrief with your mentor. You will learn together.
  6. Be prepared.   Set objectives for your mentor meetings.  Know what you want and need from your mentor, gather information, and come prepared to defend your ideas. And the corollary to this, of course, is to provide materials to your mentor so that she can be prepared, too.
  7. Be forgiving.  You are not your mentor’s day job.  Patiently accept the reality that your mentor will be hard to schedule, will cancel meetings at the 11th hour, and sometimes miss them all together.  Mentors don’t mean to blow you off; but it does happen sometimes.
  8. Be the lead.  This is about your career and your development. You need to  drive the relationship, set the agenda, take the initiative.
  9. Be invested.  You have to want the relationship more than the mentor does.  The outcome of this relationship needs to matter to you. Don’t expect your mentor to jump start the relationship if you lose interest.
  10. Be respectful. The culmination of points 1 through 9 is simple respect.  Your mentor gives you time and advice freely. It is a gift.  Respect the relationship with gratitude.


Now, as I begin 30 days of intensive mentoring, I’m curious to hear from entrepreneurs.  What are your top 10 expectations from your mentor?

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