Start Ups: A mentor is part of the solution and not the problem


Recently we hosted a meet and Greet at Tech Hub and the entrepreneurs who attended asserted that it is not only that they are not fully equipped with the knowhow on how to run and grow their start-up systems but Zimbabwe lacks mentors who can commit themselves to help start-up founders on how to build this emerging start-up community.

I completely understand where they are coming from and I also understand the mentors too. Zimbabwean start-ups do not have a framework or association that can fully define roles (which needs immediate attention) and at the same time mentoring comes naturally though with the assistance of guidelines. So I have taken this time to just lay out a few guidelines for mentors who feel that they get lost in the overwhelming role of mentorship. You will find that as a mentor you will actually learn a lot from your mentees and it’s not that you doing the mentee a favour but rather both of you also grow to become responsible to each other. Being a mentor means building a relationship in which a more experienced and more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have a certain area of expertise. In other words a mentor helps to you unlock greatness.

 Avail yourself

A mentor should also be readily available most of the time or make time for his or her mentee. This also means they should have the ability to listen to their mentee. Your mentee must feel comfortable approaching you for advice or consultation; however, he or she must keep your availability and your schedule in mind. So, it’s good policy to establish a set day and time for regular sessions or meetings. In this hurry-up-and-make-it-happen world, it’s important to be prepared and make the most of the time you’ve got with your mentee. You owe that to him or her, to the process, and to yourself. And once these time parameters are established, you must keep your commitments wholeheartedly and be ready to listen well and with an open mind, along with providing counsel and advice.

Maintain Professionalism

Remember that a mentoring relationship differs from a friendship. Yes, you like your mentee and care about seeing him or her succeed but keep it as professional as possible. Also, ensure that there’s no hidden agenda or ulterior motives involved in this relationship. Outside of the mentor-mentee relationship, you don’t owe your mentee any favours, and he or she doesn’t owe you anything except his or her thanks. Equally, others who know you and your mentee don’t owe either of you anything. You can be an advocate for your mentee while still retaining your objectivity and fairness and not unfairly influencing any process either of you may be involved in.

Your experience matters in your mentee’s success matrix

Being a mentor means you should be willing to communicate that which you know. It goes without saying that as a mentor, you’re regarded as an expert in your field or area of responsibility. But it is one thing to know what you’re doing and entirely another to be able to clearly explain what you know and to be willing to take the time to do it. Being clear when you communicate the lessons you have learnt, the strategies or guidance you are offering is essential as is your level of desire to communicate the intricate details in a way that makes sense and that your mentee can understand and learn from.

A mentor is part of the solution and not the problem

Be very curious and show some high degree of keenness. Ask good questions. The answer is not always apparent, and sometimes the problem needs defining. To get to the core of issue, be inquisitive. Define what needs fixing for example people, process or technology. Outline possible actions. Map out where are we now vs where we want to be. The mentor can help reason whether this or that is the right direction, considering the big picture. Being a mentor also means you should continue learning about what’s going on in your industry or business or the world a. Remember: What worked a decade ago may not be optimal today, and what works today may not work as well one, two, five, or more years from now. So, continual learning is essential if you plan to continue to be an effective mentor. Always keep an alert eye on trends, topics, and developments that may impact you or your role, both now and in the future.

Match your skill set with the needs of the start-up

Align with your expertise. A mentor may be an expert in many areas but specialisation is key depending with the needs of the mentee and the nature of the start-up. Match your skill set with the needs of the start-up or entrepreneur. You may have specialized in a particular discipline, or have held senior management positions, or had entrepreneurial experience applicable to the start-up. Share your stories to teach the lessons you have learned along the way. Show your faith in your mentee’s abilities and in the process by preparing for each mentoring session. It is important for your mentee to actively participate and even take the lead in these sessions. But you should ask your mentee what topics or subjects he or she wants to talk about beforehand, and once you know, you should outline the key points you want to focus on ahead of time, and have a plan ready for imparting your details in an effective way.

Be very honest

Be as open, honest and diplomatic as possible. A mentor has to be discreet and diplomatic at the same time. Any questions that aren’t addressed can lead to concerns and problems, so you owe it to your mentee to be candid and straightforward with him or her. Dispense with formalities and really help facilitate an open, even lively dialogue a give and take and don’t beat around the bush in offering your constructive feedback, good and bad. Say what you think your mentee needs to hear from you, not what you think he or she might want to hear. Be willing to debate and discuss in a tactful way. Provide useful, honest guidance while ensuring that your mentee takes the reins and makes his or her own decisions as to next steps or the best course of action.

Show concern

Just because you must maintain your objectivity and fairness does not mean you can’t show your compassion. In fact, your mentoring relationship probably won’t work if you don’t show your interest and desire to provide one on one help and guidance. You must also be selfless about sharing what you know. Keeping your goal in mind to remain worthy of someone’s trust, model positive behaviour and successful performance, and offer guidance and advice toward reaching a specific goal should be the compass that guides all your actions as a mentor.

Bringing mentors together with those who wish to be mentored is no easy task. Tech Hub has launched an app to make this process painless. Download the app today from Google play store or email us at