I would define mentorship as goal-oriented friendship: it’s helping someone to achieve their goals through guided experience. A mentor doesn’t need to be older or smarter than you; they just have to be invested in your success.
I am not very good at cooking. I could build an oven, CNC a metal fork, or 3D print a cup, but I have the hardest time understanding the ‘mechanics’ of cooking food. One of the key elements of mentorship is experience. My younger brother is very good at cooking and has a lot of experience doing so. Despite me being the older sibling, I would consider him my mentor when it comes to learning how to cook. As I cook more, I gain experience and can become a mentor for others. By orienting around the goal of ‘get better at cooking’, we both learn valuable lessons; him on how to teach others about cooking, and myself on how to learn from others about cooking.
In mentor relationships, both the Mentor and the Mentee have a lot to gain. The Mentee (the person receiving mentorship) becomes more competent, and the Mentor now has another competent person in their network. Back to cooking: I benefit from now being able to cook, and my brother benefits from the help I can give him if we cook together. It’s a classic win-win. This win-win situation applies in the professional world as well. Beyond basic job training, mentorship creates a direct path to mastery for the employee. As an employer, having competent employees who are good at what they do is a no-brainer.
Tips for being a good mentor
If you want to mentor someone, you have to be patient and beware the “cowpath”. Cowpath thinking means doing things the way they have always been done, even if a different way comes along. As a mentor, you still have to be open to learn as you teach. If the person you are mentoring has a better way of completing the task, embrace it. Stay focused on the goal.
A good mentor is humble and open to switching up how things are done while still keeping the mentees focused on achieving their goals. At the same time, a mentor should make sure that tasks are completed without taking shortcuts. Encourage your mentee to ask questions so that you can explain to them the reason why something is done in that particular way. They will be less likely to take shortcuts if they understand the risks of taking them. At the same time, you have to be open to answering any and all questions they may have. Encourage them to do it right the first time or don’t bother doing it at all.
Tips for being a good mentee
If you want to be a good mentee, respect your mentor and be open to and prepared for criticisms. Neither you, nor your mentor, will always be right, but their advice and perspective is often based on their experience. However, if you disagree or have an idea or preference for doing something differently, then you should propose and discuss it with your mentor. There is likely a reason behind why your mentor makes certain suggestions; perhaps the costs of one mistake outweigh the benefits of 100 successes; or there are unseen parallel processes that must be integrated properly to get the right result. Whatever the reason is, it’s your job as a mentee to ask.
When I was working IT for a tech company, I had to assemble components into motherboards. I wanted to assemble all the components at once, but my supervisor had us install and test each individually. I asked him why and he explained to me how the supplier had poor quality control so it was necessary to weed out the bad components before they reached the customer. The greater your understanding is, the more competent you will become. Experience is not given to you as a mentee: you must work for it.
Questions you might consider asking your mentor
- Why did you do it that way?
- Is there another way of doing this?
- Where/how did you learn to do it this way?
- What’s the most important factor to succeeding?
- What’s the most important component of the main goal?
Mentorship Opportunities at ASU
If you are looking for mentorship with your venture here at ASU, there are a few resources that are very helpful.
- Shameless plug, but as an Entrepreneurship Catalyst I serve as a mentor for many students looking to start their ventures. There are Catalysts on every campus, each with their own specialties. If you want to reach out you can do so here: https://entrepreneurship.asu.edu/entrepreneurship-catalysts
- If you are looking for funding and mentorship, Venture Devils is the program for you. Through Venture Devils, you gain access to mentors and funding to help you start your business. You can learn more here: https://entrepreneurship.asu.edu/launch/venture-devils
About the Author: Jordan Fourcher is an Entrepreneurship Catalyst and current ASU student, majoring in Technological Entrepreneurship and Management. Jordan is incredibly passionate about entrepreneurship. Starting his first tech startup in 2020, Jordan is always looking to help other entrepreneurs on their path to success.