Do you have a mentor?
If you don't, I recommend that you seriously consider it.
A few weeks ago, I asked a new person to be my mentor. I usually don't communicate profusely about it, but several friends of mine asked some very interesting questions when they heard the news. I realized that it was a topic worth covering in a post. I'm going to explain why I chose and asked this person, how I contacted him and how we work together.
Last summer, I went back to France for two weeks for a studious vacation. I tried to take it easy (work-wise) and spend time, reading, and learning. One audio book I listened to during this time was Ben Horowitz's: "The hard thing about hard things". This book is full of gems for entrepreneurs. As I was at the beach, listening to Ben talking about his advisors, it struck me: it was time for me to try and find a formal mentor in order to become a better founder. Being in the process of growing my new company in Sweden, I felt like I could use the help of someone who've been there, and reached the goals I've set for myself.
I put my audio book on pause and started thinking about the qualities I should be looking for. I needed a founder, who ran a service company, who managed tons of people, who was pedagogical and benevolent. I flicked through mental pictures of potential mentors but actually found the perfect match almost right away: the founder of a company I worked for as an employee.
Even though we didn't know each other that well, or at least I thought he would probably not remember me, we shared a common experience. I thought it would, should he accepted to be my mentor, help to kick start the relationship.
Back to Sweden after my vacation, I was still convinced I wanted his help. But to be honest, I wasn't sure how to approach him. For some irrational reasons, I was intimidated. Maybe because he used to be my boss. Maybe because he's a successful entrepreneur. I didn't contact him for another 2 months.
Before actually contacting him, I decided to try and put myself on his radar. We are connected on Linkedin, so I checked his profile hoping he would get a notification. I also looked him up online, found his twitter account. The tweets were private: perfect. Same method, I asked to follow him and hoped he would get an email request.
A few weeks later, I wrote him.
I won't reveal the exact content of the email, but here's the plan of it:
- Hello + reminding him where we know each other from
- What I've been up to since the last time we chatted (5 years ago)
- What I'm currently working on: my new company
- Why I'm writing him: I want to get back in touch because he's a great entrepreneur.
- Explain that I want to become a better founder and CEO
- Ask him if he would accept to have a chat on Skype
You probably noticed that I didn't use the word mentor yet. Mentoring can be perceived as a lot of responsibilities and I didn't want to scare him away. I wanted to have a chance to ask him "in person".
I nervously pressed sent.
His reply came in a few hours later: he accepted to talk.
The first Skype talk
We had our first conversation a week later. It lasted more than one hour during which we got reacquainted. It ended up confirming that he had the profile I was looking for: experienced and benevolent. So I took a leap of faith and asked him: "Would you consider mentoring me?".
There. It wasn't so difficult!
I explained to him what I was expecting from this relationship, and we talked about our organization. How it would work, how long we would do it, and so on.
We then switched back to talking about business. He shared his first invaluable advice and gave me homework to do for the next session.
How I prepare and what do we do during these sessions
We are still early in the relationship, but let me tell you a bit about our organization.
First, frequency. We talk, if he's available, every week.
If he gave me assignments during the previous session, I share the results with him a day or two beforehand. If there's a specific topic I want to put on the table, I try to give him a heads up by email, so he can prepare if he wants.
A few hours before, I create a file where I list the highlights of my week. What I've been focusing on, what went good and what didn't. I also write down the other things I want to talk about.
During the meeting, I go through this list. This is the base of our discussion. Then we go on to the special topics.
I don't take notes during the call because I want the discussion to remain informal and because I want to give him my undivided attention. That said, I add the important insights to a note first thing after.
Someone who was really important to me
I've had several mentors since I began my professional life. Both informal and formal. Each of them have a very different personality and helped me in very different areas.
I'm so grateful. I feel really lucky to have been and to be surrounded by these great entrepreneurs and friends.
If you haven't dared to take the step yet: do it. Invest time in finding the right mentor and ask them!
I want to end this post by paying tribute to someone.
His name is Serge Pignard and he was my first boss.
He gave me my chance when I was only 17 years old. I learned the old school way of doing business by watching him work. I'm immensely grateful for the opportunity he gave me.