Effective Mentor Protégé Relationships

We recently launched our Mentor program at the Oregon State University OSU Advantage Accelerator. In developing the program, I began to think about the attributes and workings of an effective mentor and a good protégé.

Effective mentors get off to a good start. They set good ground rules and hold them right from the beginning. My good friend and former collaborator at USC, Tom O’Malia, had three rules for the mentor-protégé relationship: (1) They should meet at regular preset meeting dates and times; (2) The protégé must send short notes from the last meeting and an agenda for the next session; and (3) Both documents must arrive at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, or else it is cancelled.

These are excellent ground rules, but what else makes for a good mentor?

Mentors set high standards, constantly challenging their protégés.

Mentors make the experience worthwhile. They are truth tellers.

Mentors have good people skills and can manage even the most difficult protégé.

Mentors can have those teaching moments in all situations.

Mentors realize what they do not know.

Mentors make their advice actionable.

I know this will sound corny, but mentors don’t give their protégés a fish, but teach their protégés how to fish. In other words, mentors try not to give the answers straight out.

Mentors do not allow a dependency to build, but rather encourage personal and professional development.

Mentors ask questions and do not give lectures.

Mentors are very good about confidentiality.

Mentors are very candid.

Mentors come prepared and don’t let protégés come unprepared.

Last of all, mentors know when to say goodbye.


On the other hand, protégés:

Experiment with different behaviors. This is a chance to see what works.

Protégés do not fool themselves, or their mentors.

Protégés set an agenda ahead of time, also send notes of the last meeting – in advance.

Protégés stick to the allotted time and make the time meaningful.

Protégés take responsibility for learning.

Protégés listen carefully, always focused on the present.

Protégés recognize the gift of mentoring, give back and make the time meaningful for the mentor.

Protégés articulate what they desire to learn.

Protégés agree to and do what is asked or negotiate an alternative.

Protégés keep timetables.

Protégés are candid.

Good protégés eventually become good mentors.

I am sure that this only touches upon a number of the issues and behaviors that mentors and protégés are required to consider in order to create an effective relationship. What would you add to the list?

The UnderTow

Risk – Part 2

You never know when you will meet someone and how he or she can help you or your business. For example, I met a great mentor riding in an elevator and another on jury duty. All successful entrepreneurs know that attendance at networking events is an essential activity. Remember that networking is a two way street. You need to give something in order to get something in exchange. Information exchange is done through interpersonal networks, a convergent process that takes time and effort to establish.

Looking out over the ocean, we see beauty in the calm waters. In many popular bathing spots, there is an undertow, a strong current that flows out to sea. Undertows are near impossible to fight, but entrepreneurs must find ways to harness that energy. Smart CEO’s have a calm exterior and an inner undertow, a force and energy to push the startup through any wave.

Many entrepreneurs do not think about their channel partners early enough in their building process. Big buyers go through a series of stages from awareness to knowledge to adoption. Today, most entrepreneurs are thinking about their digital channels, and social media to reach their new clients. But, how are you really going to get the attention of your target audience?

Just like a great book, you can never tell what is inside until it is opened. Why will your customers and channel partners open your book and peek inside. What will satisfy their curiosity? And keep them hungry for more? What is the sticky factor?

How will you stand out in the morass of information bombarded at your target customer every single day? Most entrepreneurs believe social media works well, but frankly it is the interpersonal channels that have the best effect. Which of your friends or acquaintances influenced your last major purchase? Was it the distant Facebook friend or a live relationship? How did they help you visualize relatively abstract information into useable data about a product?

There are other basic risks that must be addressed. Is the targeted market big enough to support your growth business? Can you find and retain the appropriate talent? Is your intellectual property sufficiently protected? Can your team execute and deliver? Can you manage accumulated financial losses (the entrepreneur’s bet) until cash flow positive and know all the premises behind your financials, to survive the turbulent start? Do you understand where every dollar of your funds goes and how that spending action adds value?

Understanding the underlying processes, and flow of a company before embarking on the entrepreneurial journey will save significant time and energy (and money) when ready to launch. Knowing these key characteristics are all about reducing the risks and uncertainties inherit in a startup.

Your mentor can help, no matter where you met them. A mentors’ hindsight is your foresight. Go find those special people that can help reduce uncertainty in a start up and those can help the company grow.