How to Manage Mentors for Your Startup

Mentoring

Good mentors can be essential for career advancement and achieving business goals, but what happens when mentors become more of a distraction than an asset?

In the age of accelerators and incubators it’s common to have a group of mentors or coaches who work together on a startup’s behalf. Often times those mentor meetings and coaching sessions can serve as a debate forum for the mentors’ various perspectives. While it’s important to have a team of mentors who will challenge each other and bring varying experiences to the discussion, the immediate needs of the startup and its leaders should not take second place to the mentors’ need to win the room.

There are ways to ensure that a startup gets the most value from its mentors without having to play referee. Here are some basic tips.

Have an agenda for every mentor meeting
Prior to the meeting circulate an agenda to all meeting attendees. Include time slots for each topic and stick to them. If a discussion goes on beyond the allotted time put the topic on a “parking lot” sheet and schedule a follow up if the topic is critical to the business.

Defer to the mentor with the most experience
When a discussion gets out of control ask the mentor with the most experience in the subject matter to weigh in. Relevant experience often trumps opinion and can move the discussion to a productive conclusion.

Offer to meet with mentors one on one

Group mentor meetings can be very valuable for discussing strategic issues but are not well suited to tactical planning and execution. Stick to strategy topics during the group meetings and request individual meetings with mentors who have expertise in specific operational focus areas.

When managed well the mentor-mentee relationship can be very fruitful for both parties; the mentor gets exposed to new business issues and the mentee gets the benefit of their mentor’s relationships and years of experience. It’s well worth the effort for both parties to engage.

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