How To Become A Better Mentee

York University’s Chris Carder explains the critical skills mentees need to get the most out of mentorship

Curated by: Stefan Palios in partnership with MindFrame Connect 

When you sit down in a mentorship meeting, that time is solely dedicated to your success as a founder. It’s a weird feeling sometimes, particularly when you’re likely used to serving everyone else–investors, customers, and team members–before serving yourself. 

Mentor meetings are truly a time for you to talk about your challenges and (hopefully) get solutions, insights, or next steps. However, with that benefit comes responsibility. 

As a mentee, you have to own the meeting in a way that’s helpful to you in the end, but respectful of your mentor during the process. You also have to respect the broader, time-honoured tradition of mentorship; there’s more to the relationship than someone with experience giving you tips.

Chris Carder, a successful entrepreneur who is now the Executive Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Schulich School of Business, shared more about the little details that strengthen your skills as a mentee. 

The mindset of menteeship

Carder views mentorship as a way for mentees to look deeper into themselves in two ways:

  1. Leadership: What someone is looking to do as a leader.
  2. Legacy: How someone wants to show up within their team and within the broader business ecosystem. 

It’s important to think about these questions for yourself, both objectively and as they apply to the challenges you’re facing in your business because it rapidly accelerates your learning. 

“The mentors I had helped me open a door faster than I would have been able to open it on my own to a key insight or realization,” said Carder. “And I just want to share every mistake I ever made, every mistake I've ever seen, and give them a way to go faster and spend less time having to learn.”

From a mindset perspective, Ian Chisholm, Founding Partner of the Roy Group, shared his framework that mentees have to think about four different head spaces:

  • Reflecting on what they’ve learned.
  • Inquiring to ensure they understand everything around them.
  • Pausing to recuperate.
  • Acting on the right thing at the right time.

Connecting both of these perspectives will help you as a mentee become more self-aware in the meetings—that means you can become more open with your mentor and hopefully have more fruitful conversations.

Menteeship is skills in action

Carder said having the right mindset is the start, not the end of menteeship. Improving your skills as a mentee means taking action—both in the context of a meeting and in your business. 

Nagar Rahmani, Partner at Maverix Private Equity, shared that her three keys to successful menteeship are: 

  1. Follow up effectively: Rahmani recommends that you continue to stay engaged and share updates, such as a quarterly update on the growth and progress of the business, and/or celebrated milestones when hitting targets in fundraising
  2. Make the ask: A large part of continued communication is being upfront with individuals about what it is you’re asking for.
  3. Take advice with a grain of salt: At the end of the day, no one will ever fully understand your daily life as an entrepreneur and the challenges faced by you and your team, and you can always break down the advice you’ve received to determine if it’s the right fit for you. 

This is also in line with what mentors say they wish mentees knew. David Lao, a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and mentor to newcomer CPAs, said his top advice for mentees is three-fold:

  1. Set clear goals for the mentorship relationship.
  2. Be proactive when scheduling meetings or making asks. 
  3. Be open-minded to learning in ways you weren’t initially planning. 

And there’s an additional benefit: menteeship skills can translate into your business. For example, getting in the habit of action-oriented follow-ups is a valuable business development skill. And getting comfortable making the ask for something is a way to close new customers, investors, and partners, or even to find other mentors

Building trust: what mentors are taught

Carder also talked about what mentors are taught, sharing that mentorship relationships fall apart without trust.

Understanding if you have that trust, though, can be elusive. To Carder, it’s about what a founder does in the moments they feel scared, stuck, or lost. 

“Become the person that that mentee turns to when they have that big, bold moment that they have to roll the dice,” said Carder.

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