Much has been written on the entrepreneurial value of having a mentor, but little is said about how the role and outlook of the mentee is critical to the relationship.
Chris Johnson knows a thing or two about what goes on with the mentee side of the relationship. Johnson is the owner of Permission Click, a recent start-up that was chosen as one of 10 inductees for Futurpreneur’s Spin Master Innovation Fund, along with the associated $50,000 in seed money and up to two years of mentoring.
He spoke candidly and knowledgeably to My StartUP about how being a mentee affected his business, offering tips on what to look for in a mentor. His experience as a mentee produced keen insight on how indispensable it was for his growth, not just as an entrepreneur, but as a person.
Johnson is quick to point out the nuance of what constitutes a mentor, contrasting the multiple potential roles of a mentor with those of an advisor. Whereas an advisor might just focus on some of the day-to-day, operational nuts and bolts of your business, a mentor may be seen as a more holistic, all-encompassing role.
“Some mentors follow different roles of expertise,” says Johnson. “To me, a mentor is someone who is there with you through the ups and downs, left turns and right turns, who will help you through. (It’s) much more than just advisory.”
There are some particularly helpful attributes of a good mentee, according to Johnson, including respecting your mentor’s time and having mutual alignment on what both parties want to get out of the relationship.
Humility comes easily to Johnson as he reflects on how grateful he is for his mentors and how he sees it as a reciprocal undertaking.
“I mean, they’re just flat-out helping you,” says Johnson. “The only way I sleep at night taking value from my mentors is knowing that I can’t wait to pay it back to the next person.”
Ironically, the stereotypical personality (e.g., self-assured, motivated, confident) that drives many people towards entrepreneurial ventures is the same type that could possibly benefit the most from a mentor, yet might be least inclined to pursue a mentoring relationship.
“The funny thing is sometimes the people who need mentors the most are the people who don’t know that they need a mentor,” says Johnson with a chuckle.
The rewards of being a mentee are clear to Johnson. He breaks them down into three key areas in descending order of importance:
- Sober second thought from your mentor
- Connections/networking through your mentor
- Credibility provided through association with your mentor
For those start-ups considering the possibility of a mentoring relationship, the advice is straightforward, uncontroversial, and sage.
“Figure out whose friend you want to be and just reach out. It costs nothing to have a cup of coffee with someone,” says Johnson. “Think yourself forward 30 years: if someone phoned you and said ‘Hey, I’m five years out of college and I’m thinking about the next phase of life. You’re where I want to be. Can we just get together for a coffee and talk?’ Of course, you’re going to at least get together with him. Things like Twitter and social media are just beautiful for that: you can connect to anyone in the world instantly and find those things if you’re open to it.”
For Johnson, he found an informal approach to his relationship to be the most fruitful.
“Totally unstructured,” says Johnson, as he differentiates the mentor/mentee relationship from a formal, business-driven set-up. “These are people who swam the current ahead of you…they know all of the pressures you’re going through. You’re not just tackling a specific business issue; you need a way to be able to blow off steam and rant a little bit sometimes, and be validated on the way you’re thinking.
“You need someone who knows you well enough over time to tell you when to check it and when to wreck it.”
Johnson also counsels patience.
“Just like all other things in life, you might have to sow a few seeds, and it’s not an instant thing all the time,” says Johnson. “You’ve gotta watch the relationship grow.”
One key component of getting the most out of the mentee experience is truly fundamental: trust.
“(Trust) has to be there immediately. You don’t have a chance to build it up over time as friends,” says Johnson. “It has to be a very quick, two-way mutual trust relationship that develops. It’s deeply personal.”
So did the mentee experience shape Johnson’s business outlook?
“100 per cent. I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for my mentor, no question,” says Johnson, reflecting on just how life- and course-altering this has been for him. “A mentor is someone who is so much more ingrained in your life than just business.”
In the end, the key thing remaining from Johnson’s journey as a mentee is lasting inspiration.
“I’m constantly inspired by the mentors,” says Johnson. “I always wonder will I ever have the guts to do some of the things they’ve done?”
Visit Johnson’s business online at permissionclick.com and look for their upcoming business spotlight on the Shop Small Biz Blog. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor for young entrepreneurs like Chris, contact Futurpreneur Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org