How to Get the Most out of a Mentoring Relationship

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As the mentee, it's up to you to maximize the relationship.

By Emily Motayed (Co-founder, Havenly)

A successful mentoring relationship depends not just on landing a great mentor. It’s also up to you to drive how much, or how little, you receive from the relationship. And it’s on you to apply what you get from this relationship to your business decisions and life.

Unfortunately, just “having a mentor” will not solve all your problems and magically give you all the knowledge to take your business from zero to unicorn, no matter how much valuable insight your mentor has to offer.

My sister and I look to Susan Feldman of One King’s Lane when looking for sound advice to help us run our startup Havenly. But we find the most successful and productive relationship derives from one in which both parties commit the expected amount of time, effort, and care – as well as one that encourages the two-way process of learning and dialogue.

Here are some tricks and guidelines that can lead you to establishing the foundations of a strong mentoring relationship:

1. Set Expectations from the Beginning

Go into your first meeting with clear expectations on what you are looking for from your mentor. Does your mentor have specific subject expertise, such as a long career in digital marketing or growth hacking? Take advantage of that, and keep your conversations structured around the specific problems you face in that department – perhaps towards a tangible quarterly goal.

It’s helpful to focus your conversations to one sector of your business (unless you have a generalist mentor) because you have limited time with that one person. Take advantage of what you think is their strongest area(s) and leverage that to your own benefit.

2. Be Honest

For many founders, we are expected to paint a rosy picture and tell people that the ride has been “crazy but things are great!” when asked how startup life is. That’s all fine, but be authentic when it comes to those people that are there to help you. Admit to your hurdles and embrace your flaws. Talk about what’s actually going on in your business in an honest way, rather than sugarcoating it and giving it the PR spin.

Don’t be embarrassed to admit failure or trepidation of what’s next. A true productive mentoring relationship is a safe space for those things that you can’t divulge to your investors or your board or even your employees – it’s a space to talk things out and get the emotional and strategic support from someone who has hopefully been through it all before.

Ask for the help. This may be one of the only impartial parties that you will come into contact with in your business life.

3. Keep Things in Perspective

One of the terms heard in accelerators around the world is “mentor whiplash.” Know that you don’t have to take every piece of advice or direction that your mentors give you. At the end of the day, you’re the one who holds the power to make the decision. You are the person who knows your business and industry and product inside and out. And nobody can take that away from you, regardless of what their title is.

That said, having an extra set of experienced eyes on the problems that you’re facing is what a mentoring relationship is about – even if you don’t implement their advice, take it respectfully and allow it to open your eyes to other options.

Mentoring relationships are key to accelerating your career and business, and can be extremely fruitful if constructed and given the care and effort that is needed.


About the guest blogger: Emily Motayed is the Co-founder of Havenly. She previously served as a global consultant at American Express and Huron Consulting Group before making the transition to entrepreneur and startup founder alongside her sister Lee Mayer. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and a MBA from the Wharton School of Business. Follow her on Twitter at @emotayed.