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Wednesday
Dec212011

Mentoring Paradox

I believe mentoring is a gift for the mentee and the mentor.  Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors who, perhaps unknowingly, taught me how to mentor.   It’s something I take seriously and joyfully. It is a paradox - an incredibly selfless thing that is also very selfish.

Recently, my mentoring has increased.  In addition to mentoring Brown seniors and startups, I’m mentoring Oberlin College students applying for a fellowship to start their business after graduation in May.  Many of these kids were in my recent Business Model Innovation class. They are eager for advice and guidance.  They really listen! For some reason, the stakes seem higher to me than in mentoring 'adults'. For these kids' their first entrepreneur experience will shape their view of entrepreneurship, innovation, success and failure.  That's part of why they are making me a better mentor.  How? They make me challenge my own ‘status quo’ views and improve my ability to ask dumb questions.  Here’s what I have (re)learned from them:

  • Status Quo is a powerful Siren Song: It’s so easy to succumb to the status quo; though I fight it, it’s the boiled frog syndrome – and it’s so very human.  When you’ve been doing, investing in and supporting startups and consulting with businesses for a long time, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking you know a lot; and you do, but not everything and not forever.  In our dynamic world, the lifespan of knowledge is increasingly decreasing. I have to challenge my own reasoning and ideas;
  • Paradox of Inexperience and Experience:  The blank slate, the fresh naïve perspective these kids have creates innovative solutions to real needs with non-traditional business models for non-traditional customers and markets.  I learn so much about different perspectives, shifting my lens so I see the ‘usual’ in unusual ways. And my clients will benefit from lessons I’ve experienced from the inexperienced.
  • Mentor Mentors: Through the network of alumni mentoring women at Brown and my friend Whitney Johnson’s insightful, must read posts about mentoring, I’ve learned how to be a good mentor: what does/doesn’t work, when, why, in which circumstances.  This has also broadened the network I can share with my mentees – teaching them the importance of The Network.

So, take some advice from these kids – start mentoring.  It will stretch you in ways you can’t imagine, let you to share your learnings with others for their success, and provide life-long experiences to be shared, imparted and enjoyed.

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