Honesty is Key When Mentoring a Startup
You can be a great mentor, but you must be honest.
The Importance of Mentors
In the startup world, nothing can do more for a startup than a great mentor. In many cases, mentors are more valuable than funding. Square One DSM, an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, was set up specifically to connect entrepreneurs with potential mentors. Mentors make connections, provide advice and challenge mentee assumptions. By attending events like Accelerate DSM, held annually in May, small-business owners spend an entire day with other entrepreneurs and keynote speakers making worthwhile business connections. These connections can lead to mentoring relationships that help attendees accelerate their business growth.
It is important to remember that the role of a mentor is not to be part of the company or to be a cheerleader. A mentor’s role is to provide the mentee with a sounding board and a safe place to ask questions. To be a great mentor, you must tell the truth in a respectful, direct manner. The line between being honest and being hurtful or damaging is narrow and hazardous. If you cross that line as a mentor you run the risk of damaging or killing the mentor-mentee relationship. Being honest means disagreeing, questioning and challenging.
Communication is Key
Let’s explore how this would play out in a conversation:
Mentee: “I will sell 20 mid-sized business licenses next quarter.”
Mentor: “How many of the 20 mid-sized businesses have been identified by name and agreed to a demonstration this quarter?”
As the mentor, my questions to the mentee should inspire ideas and critical thinking about their business goals. From discussing marketing funnels, the sell-cycle in days for the average mid-sized customer, to questioning potential outcomes, the mentor’s job is to lead the entrepreneur to reflect on how to get to their desired result. The results of these leading questions will depend on the entrepreneur, their particular skills, as well as their past experiences, but it is the mentor’s job to create an environment of ideas that enable the entrepreneur to make the right decisions for their business.
When mentoring startups, be honest, stay respectful and ask questions. From there, it is up to the mentee to make the next step.
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