The Real Beneficiary in Mentoring

posted by Dilip on June 8, 2019

This month’s marquee entrepreneurial event, TiECon-2019 in Santa Clara, CA was buzzing with entrepreneurs coming from many corners of the world. One of the highlights of the two-day event was MentorConnect, where nearly 40 professionals from their respective fields of accomplishments were invited to mentor entrepreneurs during lunch on both days.

The design of the event was centered around participants (mentees) selecting their mentors, who were assigned a table in a large hall. During the 1-1/2hr. lunch break on both days of the event we all gathered and were assigned to our respective tables (typically, for six). You could check to see who had signed up for your session on a mobile app especially set up for the TiECon event, which made it convenient to see who would be at your table and what kind of questions may come your way during the session.

I had done MentorConnect sessions during past TiECons, so this was not an unknown to me. But, I always look forward to what the participants bring to the table and how to make each question they ask or each challenge they face in their venture, career, or their life interesting to the rest of the participants, who may not necessarily relate to that problem with the same interest as the one seeking guidance.

To me this part of framing their issue in a way that allows participation from everyone at the table is important to me as a coach, since it requires the mentor to understand the thematic significance of the issue, but at the same time also requires the mentor to provide the response with some specificity to make it actionable to that particular mentee and also to the rest of the group. After having worked with more than 6,000 clients from different parts of the world during the past 18 years I’ve come to realize that there are only a few core themes that most people—entrepreneurs to professionals in careers—face in dealing with their life’s challenges.

A few of these themes are: Understanding the basic motivations of those around you; knowing how to persuade and influence others with your point-of-view, after understanding how you can subsume yours with theirs; and, how to communicate in a language that persuades others to benefit from what you bring to them. Of course, this is a simple if not a simplistic view of the mentoring process, but essentially if you can codify your past experiences in light of these few themes then anyone can be an effective mentor.

So, here is my list of skills that allow you to be a mentor:

  1. Learn how to listen to what your mentees are facing and how they are addressing their challenge. If you can reframe the challenge in light of your experiences and frame that problem that allows you to codify that challenge in ways that has worked for you in dealing with others, then you have a viable approach to help them positively.
  2. People often have trouble communicating the problem, primarily because they are too close to it. They often bring up the symptom of their problem instead of the problem itself because of their oft-limited perspective. To get to the problem, keep asking questions until you get to the essence of their problem. When you get to this point, in most cases, you have already solved their problem by using this Socratic approach.

    One example that came up during our session, to make this point, was when a start-up CEO asked me about how to motivate his team (of 10 or so developers). Here, the symptom was lack of team motivation. So, when I started drilling down on this complaint, I found that he had not clearly articulated the mission and its purpose and what it meant to the team if they succeeded in launching their product. He agreed that once that purpose (“the why”) was clearly a shared cause then he realized that he did not need to motivate the team separately; the “why” would do it for him and his team.
  3. Show your own vulnerability during the mentoring process. Share with them how you’ve failed when taking certain risks and share with them what you learned from that failure. It is this authenticity that makes you more credible as a mentor or a coach and allows you to make them see that any worthwhile adventure is fraught with failures, setbacks, and learning.
  4. After you have analyzed their challenge or problem together let them tell you how they are going to apply this analysis to overcome their challenge and ask them to summarize what they are going to do to take action as the next step. This process will equip them to become increasingly more self-sufficient in dealing with their own challenges as they face them in their adventures giving them the confidence they need to succeed in the future.
  5. Encourage them to mentor others in their path to help them grow as mentors, regardless of their readiness to take this on.

In each of my coaching and mentoring sessions I end up learning more than what I can give them in exchange. The real beneficiary in such a session is you, if you learn how to do this right. Good luck!