So you have made the decision to be a mentor to the founder of a company in which you have just made an investment or a perhaps a young entrepreneur who might need some guidance in their search for funding. So what skills does a good mentor need in this adventure?
Learn how to Listen….
One of the most important skills that a mentor needs to develop is the ability to really listen. As a mentor, you probably have endless amounts of wisdom that you can share with your mentee. Sometimes having an individual who will listen to whatever you need to discuss without making any judgement, can be a very valuable resource. It can be quite lonely at the top, especially for a first time entrepreneur who might feel completely isolated as a new member of the “C” Suite”. Having that person in the “safe zone” who you can use as a sounding board for ideas, strategize as to how to deal with a difficult situation or perhaps simply share the ups and downs of managing a business venture can sometimes make it feel a bit less lonely at the top.
Be a positive source of energy….
I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Wharton Management Professor Sigal Barsade on the subject of emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is defined as, “the tendency to feel and express emotions similar to and influenced by those of others; also, the phenomenon of one person’s negative thoughts or anxiety affecting another’s mood.” We can all relate to this phenomenon. You are on your way to an important meeting and you encounter a negative stimulus – which for me is usually commuting into NYC on NJ Transit ( perhaps the future subject of an entirely new blog!) If you have not been able to exorcise this negative energy prior to starting your meeting, you can infect the entire group and set a negative tone for the entire meeting.
As mentors, not only should we strive to be a source of positive energy, but we can also help those we mentor to recognize how important it is to manage their teams with positive energy. Team dynamics in start-ups and early stage companies can be a critical factor in their survival and success. Professor Barsade has developed some Nano Tools for Leaders® for use in creating a positive team environment. I have found these to be a great resource. Although there are many skills that a mentor needs to possess, the ability to listen and to generate positive energy are at the top of my list.
Note: Sigal Barsade, PhD, is the Joseph Frank Bernstein Professor of Management at the The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.