What’s up with mentorship?

I’m a big fan of Bob Cringely’s blog – he’s been a writer in the Valley for years and witnessed the manic rise first hand. Bob recently wrote a post spurred by a student commenting on the lack of mentorship in their home country of Russia.

I rarely write blog comments, but this time felt obliged to share a few mentor/mentee thoughts since Startupbootcamp’s mentorship program is a front-of-mind topic in my daily life.

(my comment posted 14 Sept ’13)

Thanks for the post Bob, I’m a big fan of your blog.

As someone who runs operations for a large startup accelerator group, I’m in essence in the business of connecting startups with mentor’s (and investors, partners, etc). Here’s a few quick things that came to mind from your post:

1) The Russian student’s comment about mentorship being unknown in Russia is closer to the norm globally than you’d think. The US is truly unique from a mentorship standpoint. I’ve found mentorship does exist in Europe and Japan, but far less the US. I’ve had direct experience with mentorship being a completely new concept in many regions – Middle East, Africa, SE Asia. In fact how to tailor our mentor-driven accelerator model to markets outside the US/EU is something I consider on a daily basis.

2) Mentees must seek out mentors, but mentors need to be receptive. There’s no formal application process required – simply seeking advice and asking questions is the key. I wonder how many times the Russian student has sought advice of someone older and wiser? It’s hard to believe if they did their questions were completely dismissed. Human nature is typically more helpful than not.

My guess is a mentor had never directly come to this student with an offer to help, yet the student didn’t realize it’s their prerogative to approach first. Odds are the most successful Russians have mentors because they sought them out, yet proportionately fewer mentor/mentee relationships exist than in the US/EU so the ‘mentorship culture’ has not formed.

3) In my experience mentees have a common trait of considering advice but not necessarily taking it. No mentor wants a mentee who agrees with them all the time… hero worship works for an hour but doesn’t form a relationship. The mentees I enjoy being around not only consider my advice, but have smart responses that make me think. This is why I personally mentor – because I can learn something as well as help someone.

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