• Mentoring

Mentor Development: Creating a Mentoring Partnership

Read a case study about creating a mentoring partnership which includes thought-provoking questions and best practice solutions.

Creating a Mentoring Partnership – Case Overview

Norm joined the Futurpreneur mentoring program two short months ago and was pleased to be qualified and matched with a new business start-up so quickly. His orientation session was yesterday and he continues to think about the first discussions with his entrepreneurs – partners Sarah and Vicky. Their new photography business will be up and running in a few weeks in St. John’s. Sarah has an amazing creative flair and Vicky is very focused on achieving the goals in the business plan.

During the orientation, Vicky asked Norm several questions about his skills and experience. While he was proud to share his background in the finance and accounting industries, Vicky seemed a little disappointed that he didn’t have a background in a similar industry to her business. Norm wonders if he is reading too much into Sarah’s lack of participation and long silences in the meeting yesterday but knows that his exuberant nature will make future meetings much livelier.

Norm is looking forward to the first mentoring meeting that is scheduled for next week. He is pleased that he was able to overcome Sarah and Vicky’s wish to postpone the first mentoring session until after the next couple hectic months by reminding them that it’s a requirement of Futurpreneur Canada financing. While he hasn’t yet received the business plan from Vicky, he wonders what he can do now to prepare for the important first meeting. When he spoke with an experienced Futurpreneur Canada mentor in the program that he knows, she told him to focus on building trust and comfort in the first few meetings.


  • What are the advantages of having a mentor with a different area of expertise from the business?
  • What should Norm be doing to prepare for the first mentoring discussion?
  • What are three possible reasons for Sarah’s silence in the meeting yesterday? What implications does this have for Norm’s plan to leverage his exuberant nature in future meetings? What advice would you give Norm if Sarah continues to be quiet at the next meeting?
  • Consider the challenge Norm faced in convincing the partners to make time for mentoring meetings. What are the potential negative consequences of the approach he took? What alternative approach could Norm have used?
  • What are the top priorities of a mentor who is just beginning a new mentoring relationship?

Creating a Mentoring Partnership – Best Practice Solutions

  • Norm can provide great value as a mentor because he has a different background than Sarah and Vicky. Norm’s background in finance complements his entrepreneurs’ expertise in photography. Also, having been exposed to many different industries in his career, Norm can provide a wealth of general business advice.
  • In addition to his request for the Business Plan, Norm can do some early reading about the industry or market. Developing a base of knowledge is important and still allows Sarah and Vicky the opportunity to educate Norm by filling in the missing information. This may make them more comfortable receiving advice from Norm. Finally, Norm should prepare some questions to guide the discussions. In early days, the mentor should attempt to build trust and create a comfortable mentoring atmosphere. Norm’s questions should be focused on generating discussion.
  • Sarah could be quiet for many reasons – a few are noted below:
    • She didn’t understand some of the information in the orientation
    • There is poor chemistry or a mismatch of personalities
    • She was uncomfortable or disagreed with something in the materials
    • She was thoughtful and considering the information presented
    • She is naturally a shy person and is accustomed to letting Vicky do the talking.

As Norm doesn’t have a history with Sarah, he needs to understand why she was quiet in order to best respond as a mentor. Simply becoming more exuberant is a dangerous approach. It will prevent Norm from learning about Sarah and may intimidate her further. If Sarah’s quiet nature continues to be evident in future meetings, Norm could recommend using the Futurpreneur Canada Communications Profiler to initiate a conversation about what each entrepreneur prefers in a mentor style. Norm can state his desire to make the atmosphere comfortable and express that he’d like to better understand both Sarah’s and Vicky’s personal style in order to meet their mentoring needs.

  • Sarah and Vicky may interpret Norm “telling” them they have to complete the mentoring sessions as an enforcer role. Norm could better demonstrate his role as an advisor by mentioning the ways that he can help in the critical first months. A conversation about the value of mentoring in general would help Sarah and Vicky understand why they are required to work with a mentor. Norm could discuss the topics to be included at the first mentoring meeting with the partners. This will not only determine when the first meeting should occur, but will also let Sarah and Vicky know the time invested in mentoring will help their business.
  • The top priorities for a new mentor are:
    • Understand the business through considering the business plan, goals and industry
    • Get to know the entrepreneur(s); his or her mentoring preferences, knowledge and skills that require development and personal style.
    • Create a comfortable mentoring atmosphere that considers the needs of the entrepreneur and reinforces the value and roles of a mentoring relationship.

Creating a Mentoring Partnership – Key Learning Points

  • Describe your knowledge and experience in the context of how you can provide guidance and support to the entrepreneur and business. Identify the specific areas of support where you can offer guidance. Most mentors have general business knowledge and experience that new entrepreneurs need to develop resulting in complimentary knowledge and skills sets. Share past mentoring success stories – your own or others – with your entrepreneur. This will sell the value of a mentor and communicate your desire to help the entrepreneur succeed.
  • Learn about the entrepreneur’s personal style and adapt your mentoring style appropriately. Sarah’s quiet demeanor during the orientation could be an indication of her personal style or she simply may have been nervous meeting her mentor for the first time. If it continues, ask questions to confirm the entrepreneur’s style and preferences for working together. Consider using the Mentoring Profiler to structure this conversation. A rematch may be required if personal styles or lack of chemistry are preventing a mentoring atmosphere from developing.
  • Create a trusting and open mentoring atmosphere. A mentoring atmosphere where the entrepreneur feels comfortable asking questions or for assistance is critical in early days. Over time a trusting mentoring relationship will enable the entrepreneur to challenge the ideas of the mentor and the mentor will gain permission to ask difficult questions, creating an exceptional learning environment. Ultimately a trusting and open mentoring atmosphere will enable the entrepreneur to feel comfortable disclosing their successes, challenges and fears while they strive for business success and personal growth.