The fallacy of providing “great mentorship” in 1 hour chunks

I have a good friend who has been a successful corporate executive for over 15 years. Off the charts smart and with a keen sense for the “inner issues” driving other people, he is able to figure out the root cause of most problems faster than most people I know.

He does though have a lack of time, like most other people. Having been in a large company for most of his career, he wished to live vicariously through other people and was keen to “mentor” young entrepreneurs. My advice to him was to focus on helping younger people in his company rather than entrepreneurs. He seemed to think about my tip, but chose to ignore it.

He setup 1 hour mentoring sessions with 3 entrepreneurs who he felt were working on problems that he was keen to understand more about and wanted to help them while he learned more about the market they were targeting.

Each session was fairly standard and given his corporate background, were scheduled a month in advance with consistency and a sense of purpose.

After 2 sessions, 2 entrepreneurs said they were busy and could not make the call or be in person.

He did feel he brought value to them in both the sessions and heard from the entrepreneurs that his advice was valuable. While he was in the process of scheduling the follow up, one entrepreneur told him rather bluntly that he did not have the time.

My friend took it rather well, and wanted to understand how he could make the time more valuable. Both entrepreneurs said the same thing.

There were pieces of advice that they could get from my friend, but they did not have the time to execute on his suggestions and felt that while well meaning, most of the suggestions were not precise enough.

Note that they did not say that the suggestions were not actionable enough. They said that the recommendations were not precise.

I get nearly 2 executives and mid-career professionals from larger companies and older entrepreneurs wanting to be a mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator each week.

Most we reject.

Some because they just want to add the mentor title to their LinkedIn profile and dont have enough time to provide.

Most others because they want to compress the “mentorship” in chunks of 1 hour sessions every month.

Its hard to do anything well in 1 hour chunks in infrequent periods of time. Even if its frequent the context is fairly limited.

Its even harder to provide any value in a 1 hour mentorship session.

Which is the prime reason I am not taking any new “meetings” to provide feedback and advice to new entrepreneurs who are not in our accelerator.

There’s very limited to little value that the session can actually provide is my experience.

I might feel good about it, so might the entrepreneur for about 15 minutes after the meeting. When the dust settles, though, after a day or two, they realize the multiple edge cases and scenarios that my advice or suggestions wont really work.

If you think you can provide value in 1 hour chunks as a “mentor” I’d love to hear how you are doing it and how you measure the value of your advice.

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4 thoughts on “The fallacy of providing “great mentorship” in 1 hour chunks”

  1. Mukund, you raise some good points in general. The anecdotal reference you make appears one sided in its assessment. Let us start with mentoring – to do with broader guidance, more than advice, its about psychological support, a lending hand. In this context, I like this quote from Miles Kington – “knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad.” I think your 15 year experienced corporate executive is perhaps bringing, out of own good will, his wisdom to the table. The mentees from the accelerator perhaps dont have time for it, but dont mind it if provided more ‘precisely’…or should it have been more ‘concisely’, maybe in 15 minutes instead of 60 minutes? The suspicion I have in my mind is – are the mentees you refer to being spoon fed?

    More importantly, what is mentoring? Is it advice on a specialized topic, or is it that helping, guiding hand behind one? If it is specialized advice, say on how to structure their equity, or how to improve the user experience, or analyzing the logs for user feedback, where some level of tacit knowledge of the advisor is what matters, then I am sure there are opportunities for one to convey the same in 1 hour. Unless, of course, you would like to clarify what is mentoring in the first place!

    As far as my experience goes, since founding in 2009, I have never had a single mentor relationship, but carried several dozen conversations with wise individuals, and almost always an hour long over coffee or breakfast. I have personally found there is always something to take away. In a mentoring relationship, openness is the key and it is also openness to unstructured conversations. IMO, serendipity and entrepreneurship are interlinked and entrepreneurship is not a factory production line model.

    Boundary conditions can be defined by the clock for knowledge or material inputs, but for wisdom, why have these. My 2 cents to you would be to encourage these conversations than discourage, accelerate these rather than discourage, since wisdom is always at a premium, especially when it is offered free.

  2. I kind of agree with one point that I see a lot of people wanting to become mentor…I guess one does not need a reputed platform or title to start mentoring. Given that there are lot many who are keen to become entrepreneurs these days, there are plenty of silent opportunity to help and get helped.

  3. A mentor and an advisor are two different things I think.
    A mentor is someone who is more involved in the whole process. By that I mean, a mentor would think about the mentee even if he is not infront of him. Its a personal thing for the mentor. Similar thing to what Sridhar (above) mentioned.
    An advisor is like a consultant. They are not necessarily fully involved. Its not a personal for them.

    So yes, a one hour mentorship session seems like a fallacy.
    But a one hour advising session, well that generally works.

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