How Exactly Do I BE a Mentor?

I’ve been asked to mentor as part of High Tech Rochester’s LaunchPad program. It certainly sounds like a great opportunity to help fellow entrepreneurs gather some momentum. I can’t help but wonder, “How exactly do I be a mentor?” I’ve played many roles, including mentor, without thinking much of it. However, I can’t say that I could explain even to myself exactly how to be a mentor.  I asked several people about how to be a mentor, and received several interesting but divergent answers. These musings are my attempt to answer that same question for myself.

One of my first places to go was, where I found two definitions for mentor:

Mentor (n): (1) a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; (2) an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

These definitions help me understand what a mentor is, but not how to be a mentor. The definition doesn’t give me an understanding of the state of being of a mentor, nor the core beliefs that make a mentor successful.

A couple of weeks ago, I met David Cohen of TechStars at an event called SERGE, a small gathering of American entrepreneurs in Miami, FL. David shared with us his Mentor Manifesto, which he had previously published on his blog. The Mentor Manifesto includes a set of rules that help to describe what a great mentor does, but remembering a set of rules has never been a strength of mine. I’d much prefer to understand the intentions, beliefs, and most importantly the way of being that would help me be successful.

A way of being begins with a declaration of who I am when I fill a particular role. It might start something like this:

  • I am a mentor.
  • I am fully committed to your success.
  • I offer you the benefit of my experience without the weight of my judgment or the expense of my service.
  • I open your perspective to possibilities that you might not otherwise see.
  • I create clarity so that the next action becomes apparent.
  • I recognize that I have no decision rights with respect to your venture.
  • My success comes not from being right or showing you how much I know, but solely from your success.

When I make the declaration above, I feel like a mentor. Many of the rules I’ve seen about mentoring fall within one of the declarations above. In fact, if I’m truly living my declarations, most rules are redundant.

The last missing piece, I think, is a list of core beliefs that must be true, and without which I cannot be a successful mentor. In circumstances where these beliefs are not true, it will be very difficult for me to have a positive effect as a mentor. These may be simple rules, but could be restated as beliefs. Here are a couple of examples:

  • I may not know the answer.
  • Listening is more important than speaking.
  • Those I mentor gain the most when I am truthful.

Taken together, I believe the declaration and beliefs above, however incomplete, can still help to create the right frame of mind to actually be a mentor.

David has indicated he’s working on an updated version of the Mentor Manifesto. I’m looking forward to seeing the direction he takes in continuing its development. In the meantime, I’d be grateful for suggestions on how to improve the declaration and list of beliefs.

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Posted in Leadership
One comment on “How Exactly Do I BE a Mentor?
  1. Conor Neill says:

    I was assigned as an “observer” to a team of 4 people in a Leadership development exercise. I was told not to share answers or give clues, but I was allowed to ask questions to keep the individuals motivated or help them articulate their ideas to the others.

    I found that the title “observer” made me a better resource to this team than if I had been labelled the “mentor”.

    As observer I was there at all times for them, but trusted them to find the answers (even when I had a sense that they were “wrong”).

    Thanks for the reflections.

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