Framework curated by Stefan Palios in partnership with MindFrame Connect.
Mentors play a unique role in the startup-building ecosystem. As individuals who have been down the path before, you possess critical insights that can help new founders navigate choppy waters, avoid obvious (to you) pitfalls, and help accelerate their businesses.
But mentorship is a skill–and mentorship meetings need the right structure to deliver value.
MindFrame Connect Co-Founder Brice Scheschuk has taught mentorship and menteeship for years, sharing how a mentor can add as much value as possible during the time they are with a mentee.
Specifically, this framework is for longer-form, recurring mentorship meetings. For speed mentor meetings, check out Scheschuk’s framework on Speed Mentorship and Speed Menteeship.
You are giving your time and expertise. This might feel fulfilling, but the relationship has to work for you as much as it provides value to your mentee. Here are some things Scheschuk said to think about at the beginning of your mentor journey.
Set boundaries around your role: Identify the role you will play as a mentor and the expectations that you’ll have of both the mentee and yourself.
Determine the purpose of the meetings: These meetings are for the mentee’s ultimate benefit, you need to identify the purpose collaboratively to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
Set your rules of engagement: You will have ways you like to operate; set ground rules around this at the beginning so your mentee knows how to interact with you.
“We encourage that very strongly in the first meeting to set a proper foundation of connection and trust,” said Scheschuk.
Mentor meetings are a unique type of conversation and have some nuance when compared to other business meetings. Here’s what Scheschuk highlighted as particularly unique.
Find your frequency: Frequency is ultimately based on mutual need and what each person is capable of. In the early stages, Scheschuk said you might meet more frequently as you get to know each other. Beyond that, meetings might move to monthly, quarterly, every six months, or simply ad-hoc—it “all depends on the need.”
Target 1-hour meetings: Scheschuk said that 30-minute meetings are often not long enough to get the required depths. However, meetings over an hour begin to feel like a drag. He cautioned that the first meeting might go longer than an hour to accommodate introductions, but otherwise stick to 60 minutes if you can.
Agendas require some research: Scheschuk tells mentees to send the agenda ahead of time—sending you three discussion points and two preliminary asks. However, it’s on you as the mentor to make sure you are familiar with the agenda. That might simply mean reading it over and thinking through how you might help your mentee, but it could also mean brushing up on some research if you haven’t discussed a given topic in a while.
Meetings are for a mentee’s benefit. That means they have a lot to do, but you also have a role to play as a mentor. Here’s what Scheschuk said all mentors need to think about.
Start with a review of objectives from the previous meeting: This holds your mentee to account and helps set a productive tone for the whole meeting.
Remind mentees to take notes: If they aren’t already, nudge them to take notes so they don’t forget any key insights or thoughts from the meeting.
Be open to personal conversations and serendipity: While mentorship meetings need structure, Scheschuk cautioned against focusing exclusively on the agenda. It’s ok to bring in personal stories–yours or theirs–and talk about things that aren’t on the agenda. The key, said Scheschuk, is to centre the mentee in all non-agenda conversations.
Help your mentee set objectives: Every meeting should have at least three objectives they will work on before the next meeting, said Scheschuk. This not only continues mentee accountability but also forms the basis of your next meeting.
Ask for feedback: Scheschuk recommends asking your mentee, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did the meeting go and how do I make it a ten?”
End with appreciation and optimism: No matter how difficult the meeting was
“At the end, thank each other for the session,” said Scheschuk. “It leaves everyone in a positive mindset and allows them to go on their way.”
Mentees own the meeting—it’s for their benefit and they need to take control. Here’s a highlight of what Scheschuk teaches mentees about leading mentorship meetings.
Don’t focus on accomplishments: Mentees might get excited about their progress–and rightfully so–but mentorship meetings should focus on the problems, asks, challenges, obstacles, and risks they are facing.
“If it's all a rah-rah session, move it to the real issues at hand,” said Scheschuk.
It’s ok to feel lonely: Many founders don’t have networks who understand the true context of what they are going through. For some of your mentees, you might be the only person who deeply understands their journey, said Scheschuk.
“If a mentee is struggling personally, you probably have some experience with the journey,” said Scheschuk. “Allow them that personal space and help them through that personal obstacle.”
We draw these best practices from the first-hand experience of program managers like you and our own expertise. This white paper is a comprehensive guide that will be your roadmap to building a world-class mentoring program.