There is no one right way to lead a mentoring session. Each mentor has a unique mentoring style based on individual experience and expertise. A mentor’s personality influences how he/she connects with the mentee and conducts a session.
However, it is possible to identify some good mentoring practices. My observations are from the mentoring sessions in the MEGE-project, in which the project group developed a one-session mentoring, the MEGE Mentoring Day, for international people starting a business.
A good mentor should have the ability to read the mentee´s situation and be sensitive to the mentee´s emotions as the business idea often is very personal. The ability to give realistic feedback is critical. A good mentor asks relevant questions and, thus, opens knots and helps with decision-making. Excellent interpersonal skills are a benefit in mentoring as it helps to create an open, friendly, and relaxed atmosphere. The quality of the atmosphere is especially essential when barriers concern the mentee as a person.
Based on my experience and the observations on mentoring in the MEGE-project, I have summarized suggestions on how to run an excellent mentoring session.
- The mentor and the mentee share something about their background aiming to learn to know each other. This builds an atmosphere of trust. The mentor´s expertise should still lead the content of the whole session.
- The mentor asks questions to understand the business idea. The mentor needs to understand the core of the company, the problems and the drivers of the mentee´s entrepreneurial path. The mentor may ask questions like; “What is the story of the business?”, “Where did the idea come from?” and “Why do you want to start the business?”
- When the mentor has acquired the basic understanding, the challenging questions start. This may be the hardest part for the mentee, but also very crucial for the business advancing. The focus should be on the weaknesses of the business. The mentor confronts reality, enthusiasm and innovative intents.
- The mentor advices and shares networks and contacts. All information is within the mentor’s area of expertise.
- At the end of the session, the next steps of business development are considered. The mentee presents a scheduled plan on what to do next. The mentor and the mentee decide whether to continue co-operation and mentoring.
MEGE is a joint project between Haaga-Helia, Aalto University, Business College Helsinki, and Shortcut. The project aim is to remove barriers for international professionals to establish or acquire a business in the Helsinki region. The project is funded by Helsinki-Uusimaa regional council (Uudenmaan liitto) and Structural fund (EAKR) Talentboost -program.