In theory, mentorship is a positive concept. It is the opportunity to share your knowledge and experience with people looking for guidance, insight and encouragement.
The reality, however, is mentoring requires an investment in time and energy. It is not as simple as connecting with an entrepreneur who wants some help. Like any relationship, a mentorship requires a commitment so it is a win-win for everyone involved.
Before becoming a mentor, you need to explore the pros and cons. What are the benefits of mentoring? What are the negatives that must be considered before taking the plunge?
‘Expand your knowledge and experiences’
Todd Finch, an entrepreneur and angel investor in Toronto who mentors young co-founders, says there are different kinds of mentorships. There are entrepreneurs, he said, that require a light investment – they ask for advice or help when and if needed. It does not involve a major investment in time or energy. Then, there are entrepreneurs who need and want more; such high-potential people have the energy, ideas and skills to be successful, but they need someone who is willing to get intimately involved.
For mentors, he says, it is important to establish the kind of relationships that make sense from a variety of perspectives. It is important to have a well-defined approach and framework so mentorships work for everyone.
For Finch, one of the biggest benefits of being a mentor is the opportunity to learn and expand your knowledge and experiences.
“Being a mentor informs me, and it keeps me plugged into a community that is evolving and changing rapidly,” he says. “I get to get the benefit of staying connected and learning. And I can fire up the people who I am mentoring.”
Mentoring offers a valuable teaching moment, too. Art Markman writes in Fast Company about the tendency for people to believe that they understand the world better than they actually do. “The cure for the illusion of explanatory depth is teaching. When you teach something to another person, you discover all of the details that you don’t completely understand yourself. That means mentors make themselves smarter in the process of teaching others.”
Finch says another benefit of mentorship is possible investment opportunities. When you spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs, he says you get deep insight into their vision, product and market. “I ended up investing in a couple of companies that I was mentoring,” he notes.
And perhaps the biggest benefit, he says, is seeing entrepreneur enjoy success. A startup he has been mentoring has begun to see sales traction and recently closed a large financing round. When the deal closed, the entrepreneurs called Finch to let know how he had played an instrumental role in making it happen.
How much time can you put into mentorship?
As for the cons of the mentorship, Finch says it requires a much bigger commitment than expected. The time, energy and effort can be significant to make an impact and, at the same time, deliver enough value to meet the needs of both sides.
Another reality is some mentoring assignments are not successful. The entrepreneur fails to grow and accept the knowledge and experience being offered, or the product does not resonate with consumers.
At the end of the day, Finch says being a mentor is like making an investment: you need to consider the positives, negatives and risks. Becoming a mentor should not be a flippant or rash decision; otherwise both sides will be disappointed.
“From my perspective you are excited about dealing with high potential people,” he said. “If you are mentoring high-potential people, you are attracted to them because they are exceptional. You will learn something from them while they are learning from you. That is the best value exchange when you are learning something from the relationship as well. That is one of the reasons why I like mentoring.”