I spent time over the holidays thinking about what makes a good mentor. Here’s my summary after thinking about the mentors I’ve had so far.
- cultivate long-term relationships with their mentees
- can distill their years of experience into good advice that’d take mentees years to figure out on their own
- want a mutually beneficial relationship where they get something out of it too
have experience and proven track record in an industry related to the mentee
Ben, whom I’ve written about before, is a good mentor because he was good at setting aside time for me. He helped me learn the basics of computer science, encouraged me, gave me straight medicine, and called it like he saw it. He’s not afraid to be honest and can be very encouraging. We’re good friends. He was patient yet demanding out of what he expected. He knew when to push and when to nudge.
Last fall when I was interviewing at various New York tech startups, a certain head engineer made a good impression on me. He was candid and told me valuable sage-pieces of advice would’ve taken me years of experience to figure out. One example: designing perfect, IBM-smarter-planet-like systems is not always commercially viable or make as great an impact as I thought. He gave advice on how to evaluate the job opportunities I was considering. I know he’d be a valuable mentor because in the short time we talked, his words helped me choose the right startup to join.
A good mentor values the relationship both ways. The mentor could enjoy mentoring simply for the sake of helping another individual grow as a person or because he/she sees a potential business partner/investment opportunity in the future. Both parties should cultivate a long-term relationship where they come away from each meeting feeling the time spent was meaningful and fulfilling.
Does the mentor have a record of good performance and achievements in the field you aspire to excel in? Has he/she achieved or built something that inspires you? Or is the mentor being theoretical and professorial without practicing what he/she preaches?
Look for someone who understands your similarities and differences. Not an older person who’s trying to live vicariously through you or trying to mold you into a younger version of himself.
Also, Trevor Owens teaches a class on this. I haven’t taken it yet but will as soon as he sets another date for it.