The Power of CREW
Lessons Learned in Mentorship

November 26, 2018
Written by: CREW-St. Louis

Lessons Learned in Mentorship

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As we reached the halfway point of the inaugural Mentorship Program, CREW-St. Louis invited mentors and mentees, along with several board members, to review best practices and lessons learned.
Held on Oct. 25 following the monthly board meeting, the session included lively discussion. Plus, it included a special speaker. Steve Epner, past chairman of the Gateway Venture Mentoring Service, faculty member in St. Louis University’s graduate business program, author and lifelong entrepreneur, provided some great insights on the mentoring process.
Epner has been active as a mentor throughout his career. He shared the do’s and don’ts of mentoring both from the mentor’s and mentee’s perspective.
As for the mentor, Epner outlined several things to do:
  • Offer advice but never the solution. It’s not the mentor’s job to tell the mentee what to do but rather how to find a way to solve a problem, overcome a challenge or achieve a goal.
  • Mentors need to be active listeners and ask tough questions without being judgmental.
  • Ask the mentee not what they want but what they need. Key words such as “I wish” will get to the real need.
  • Always encourage mentees to try even if they fear failure.
  • Tell the truth when something may not be the best approach, though. Epner calls that “tough love.”
  • Do it right, Epner says. Don’t commit as a mentor if you won’t put in the time.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help as a mentor if you don’t know the answer, he adds.
And mentors should look at what to avoid, as well:
  • Never tell the mentee what to do.
  • Never hire a mentee since this puts the relationship in an awkward position. A mentor works best when the relationship is at arm’s length, he notes.
  • A mentor can’t get lost in the weeds. In other words, be careful not to get involved in day-to-day operations, activities, etc. of the mentee.
While the mentor serves as an advisor, the mentee bears several responsibilities – some practical, some logistical, some theoretical:
  • The mentee must set goals, the overriding purpose of enlisting the support of a mentor.
  • Be prepared. The mentee should never take advantage of a mentor’s time, Epner says.
  • Listen. As a mentee, it’s important to offer feedback so the mentee understands what the mentor is saying.
  • Accept tasks and accomplish those tasks by established deadlines.
  • Report on the mentee’s progress.
  • The mentee should always set the agenda for any meetings.
  • And the mentee is responsible for setting up the meeting, including picking up the tab if it’s during a meal. 

Conversely, a mentee should never:
  • Ask for a job.
  • Request that the mentor complete an assignment for the mentee.
  • See if the mentor would be willing to intervene in a workplace issue on the mentee’s behalf.
  • And ignore the mentor!
Those guidelines work in getting the most from a mentorship relationship, Epner says, but he adds that every relationship, every program may work differently.
He did note that a mentoring relationship can go on indefinitely. Typically, though, a mentor’s job ends under four circumstances:
  • All the mentee’s goals have been accomplished.
  • The relationship goes stale, with no new progress.
  • Meetings become a formality rather than productive, or as he says, “Show up and throw up.”
  • One of the parties continually delays or postpones meetings.
As for the CREW-St. Louis Mentorship Program, the Member Services Committee will send out information early next year for participation in the 2019 program.