I have been doing some thinking about mentoring. As I get more experience in providing business guidance to others I have found that there needs to be some more structure put around these relationships. Perhaps it is that old thing that it seems like you find articles in the news when you were thinking about them, but I found this article today about mentoring turning into a multi-player sport.
It makes a lot of sense. Clearly, mentors have a lot to give to their charges. Last week at the Launch Depaul new venture competition, all three of the for-profit teams have dedicated mentors through the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center Blueprint program. But not as clearly, mentors are usually really good at a couple of business topics and relatively weaker on others. As an entrepreneur who is looking to recruit a mentor, it is a good idea to perform a serious self evaluation to understand what your true needs are and what you hope to have the mentor accomplish. In many cases, it makes sense to work with several mentors to cover the spectrum of issues that the business owner has uncovered through the analysis. A good mentor will know his or her strengths and where they can provide the most support, but they will also know of other potential mentors who can cover other areas and be a good fit for the corporate culture.
Currently I am working on a project with another mentor, where a portion of the need is in my wheelhouse, finance and operations. But the other mentor that I am working with is a whiz with technology, planning, HR and legal. The entrepreneur understands sales and marketing, so we are fairly close to covering the ongoing needs of the company to enable serious growth.
As a business owner engaging a mentor or mentorship team, it is critical that you all agree on the structure for the support. In the cases where I was just a mentor on call when someone had an issue, the result was less satisfying for both parties than when the mentoring was clearly defined. That is not to say that you cannot deviate from the plan, however it is incumbent on all partners to understand what needs to be done and to adhere to a process to manage plan changes.
Both parties get so much out of a mentoring relationship, when it is managed as a true business relationship.