February 9, 2018
By Austin Belali
The following is an article from 2018 Voqal Fellowship mentor Austin Belali outlining five pieces of advice for how this year’s Voqal Fellows can get the most out of their mentorships. You can read more from Austin, including the original version of this post, on his Medium @BrotherAustin.
A mentor/mentee relationship is one of the most important aspects of a startup founder and social change leader’s journey. If someone volunteers or accepts the challenge of serving as your mentor take full advantage by making direct asks of them and make sure you get exactly what you need from the relationship.
1. Establish Your Mentor’s Circle of Competence
No one is great at everything. You’ll be frustrated if you lean on your mentor for their expertise in an area where they have none. Instead, establish what your mentor is good at and enjoys doing and lean on them for support in that area. For example, I am an expert at impact evaluation and fund development but if my mentee asks me about graphic design I won’t be very much help. At the end of your year-long Fellowship you might wonder what, if anything, your mentor helped you accomplish. But if you are clear on the front-end about your mentor’s strengths and weaknesses you can focus on seeking their expertise where it will really make a difference.
2. Learn from Your Mentor’s Past Mistakes
If a post-mortem analysis is a look back at the big mistakes you’ve made and why you made them, then a pre-mortem analysis is a look forward at the big mistakes you might make and how you can avoid them. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather learn from my mentor’s mistakes than my own. One of the benefits of a relationship with a mentor is that you can benefit from their past experiences (assuming they have had experiences that you have not) but you often have to ask them the right questions. A great question to ask is, “where have you seen efforts like this go wrong before?” As start-up founders and visionary leaders, we can sometimes be overly optimistic and overconfident about the future. A great mentor can keep you grounded in reality.
3. Ask Your Mentor to Help You Make Better Decisions
Sometimes the most important service a mentor can provide is their own presence as a sounding board for the big decisions that come up in our day-to-day work. Rather than overwhelming your mentor with a flood of confused ramble every time you check-in, you can come to your mentor with a few critical decisions you want to discuss during meetings, which can also be tracked and followed-up on at a later date. A helpful tool to keep track of key decisions is a decision journal that you can keep up to date with the big trade-offs you are confronting. After discussing decisions with your mentor, you can also debrief the outcome of the decision later on using your journal.
4. Leverage Your Mentor’s Network
A great mentor can open doors for you and introduce you to helpful people along your way to success. But if you aren’t upfront and clear about who you want connections with then you miss the opportunity to take advantage of the relationships your mentor has. Instead of being vague about what kind of person you want to connect with, take some time to research through social media or discussion who your mentor has relationships with that you might want to connect with. Ask your mentor to connect you with specific people within a specific timeframe (ideally these connections are related to an important mission or goal you are trying to achieve).
5. Calendar Your Mentor Check-Ins in Advance
If your mentor is awesome then they probably have a packed schedule of meetings with other people who want their expertise and important daily tasks they have to carry out. Don’t be surprised if there are times when your mentor is less than responsive to requests to check-in with you. One way to navigate this is to schedule as many of your check-ins with a mentor in advance. Sometimes you can agree to schedule a regular check-in at the same time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Other times you both might decide to sit down and schedule your next few check-ins all at once. No matter how you decide to calendar your check-ins with your mentor the important thing is to make them as easy as possible.
In conclusion, the mentorship experience can be one of the most successful experiences a startup founder and leader can have. But as it has been said many times before, you have to start with the end in mind. We can sometimes stumble into great mentorship relationships that change our lives, but setting the right intentions at the beginning can save you and your mentor the headache of a missed opportunity.
To learn more from Austin on social impact leadership and change subscribe to his email newsletter here.
Learn more about the Voqal Fellowship and the 2018 class of Voqal Fellows here.