Think back to your pre-leadership/entrepreneur years. Is there a person who was eager to invest in your development? Is there a person who cared about your success? If there was such a person, did you think of that person as a mentor at the time? What exactly is a mentor?
One definition describes a mentor as a more experienced person who shares expertise with a less experienced person. To gain an even clearer understanding of the term “mentor,” it may be helpful to look at synonyms for “mentor,” which include teacher, supporter, advisor, and even encourager. But perhaps the best definition and the one that most clearly aligns with the role of a mentor is this: A mentor is a person who provides useful and actionable information in the context of a long-term relationship.
SLATE Mentoring Methodology
Mentors that use a proven methodology to ensure quality and consistency are likelier to help their mentees achieve their goals. The five key components of the SLATE mentoring methodology include the following:
- S = Stop and Suspend Judgment
- L = Listen and Learn
- A = Assess and Analyze
- T = Test Ideas and Teach With Tools
- E = Expectations Setting and Encouraging the Dream
When you begin any mentoring session, remember SLATE and how to start each session with a clean SLATE. Be open to new possibilities. Be ready to consider new ideas. Start with a fresh, clean SLATE. The SCORE mentor program uses the SLATE mentoring methodology (since I’m a certified SCORE mentor, this is how I learned about it). Let’s explore each part of SLATE in greater depth.
Stop and Suspend Judgment
Whether you are mentoring by phone, email, video conference, or in person, when you can connect with an entrepreneur, you must be completely engaged in the mentoring session. Because it is such important work, the first part of the model is to STOP and focus all your attention completely on the moment and on the person you are mentoring.
As mentors, we want our mentees to feel connected to us for the life of their business or career. And you can help ensure that they are.
There are three things our minds can think about the past, the present, and the future. When you stop and focus on the entrepreneur, you bring all of your attention to the present priority — your client — and you can better mentor the entrepreneur.
Suspending judgment means you refrain from casting judgment regarding a person’s appearance, clothing, mannerisms, ethnicity, and even the business idea. We acknowledge that not all ideas you hear will become great ideas, but respecting the person who brings the idea is an important part of your service as a mentor.
Suspending judgment does not mean that you will never be able to offer your ideas and experience concerning the business idea. Still, it does mean that you will suspend judgment long enough to listen, learn, ask questions, and come to a deeper understanding of the idea.
Premature judgment interrupts the process of building rapport and creates a barrier. Remember, your goal is to establish a relationship with the entrepreneur, not jump to conclusions in the first few minutes of a mentoring session.
Listen and Learn
When you are listening, you are not talking. You are not thinking about talking. You are not waiting for an opening to talk. So, what are you listening for? Consider the words you are hearing. Is the entrepreneur expressing thoughts, feelings, beliefs, emotions, facts, data, or hearsay?
Knowing what you’re hearing will help you dig deeper with questions to help the entrepreneur learn and grow due to your mentorship. Listen and Learn has at its heart the notion of creating effective dialogue. Mentoring is a relationship with an ongoing conversation. The best way to create a conversation and bring important information to the surface is to use the power of questions.
- Ask questions that make the entrepreneur think deeply.
- Ask questions that begin with how, what, and why, which helps elicit information to increase understanding.
Assess and Analyze
By definition, “assess” means to estimate the value of something. “Analyze” means to examine in detail to identify causes, key factors, and possible results. After the Listen and Learn step is Assess and Analyze, which helps you focus on the information that has surfaced so far; remember, you are not judging the ideas or the person. Your mission should be to help the entrepreneur assess and analyze the issues at hand. This is different than you assessing the ideas. It’s you helping the client assess and analyze the idea. You can do this by actively listening, asking good questions, and creating a dialogue.
As a mentor, you are asking questions that lead the entrepreneur to greater discoveries. Great mentors don’t provide all of the answers, but they do help the client think through things logically and methodically so that he or she can determine the best course of action. The best mentors are masters at helping the entrepreneur assess and analyze by uncovering information and discovering answers together.
Test Ideas and Teach With Tools
Suggesting that an entrepreneur “test an idea” is a powerful form of discovery. Testing an idea involves exploring an idea more fully, which typically yields more information and data. You are not lining up ideas and shooting them down. You are not asking the entrepreneur to defend the ideas so that you can judge them.
At Tork Media, we have discovered that the first idea an entrepreneur has is not always the idea the entrepreneur succeeds with. Testing is one way to help discover the best idea or to explore an idea more fully. There are many ways to test an idea. The following are four ways to keep in mind.
- You and the entrepreneur could engage in a dialogue using if/then statements to work an idea through its paces without actually implementing it.
- The entrepreneur could talk to someone who has already tested a similar idea.
- The entrepreneur could research other organizations that have implemented a similar idea.
- The entrepreneur could implement a phase or portion of the idea and track the results. Once the entrepreneur tests an idea, he or she may need more information.
That’s when Teaching With Tools comes in. There are three types of tools to keep in mind:
- First, there’s YOU. As a mentor who brings a wealth of experience and a deep desire to be a faithful and wise advisor, you wear a unique tool belt full of tools. Share your expertise. Become the mentor your entrepreneur asks for by name and even recommends by name.
- Second, there’s the internet and/or ChatGPT (not to be relied on too heavily).
- Third, there’s your network. I always suggest you start closest to home in search of the expertise you need.
The most important thing to remember about Teaching With Tools is that you are equipping the entrepreneur to think, decide, and act based on information, data, and trends. That makes the entrepreneur smarter.
Expectations Setting and Encouraging the Dream
Eventually, each mentoring session comes to a close, and it’s important to wrap up the session in a way that creates momentum for moving forward. Regardless of whether the entrepreneur will explore more information on the web, meet with another entrepreneur, test an idea, or just do some more thinking, something positive and specific should come out of every mentoring session. SLATE helps you remember to end strong.
Expectations Setting helps keep the mentoring relationship alive and moving forward. At the close of each mentoring session, ask the entrepreneur what he or she plans to do as a result of the mentoring session. Develop a plan of action together. Identify what will be done by when. Talk about it and put it to the SMART test.
SMART is an acronym for making sure that there are clear, actionable expectations at the close of the mentoring session.
- S is for specific.
- M is for measurable.
- A is for attainable and action-oriented.
- R is for realistic.
- T is for timely.
By putting expectations to the SMART test, you and the entrepreneur establish a relationship built on mutual accountability and activity that will produce momentum and results. Great mentors don’t encourage clients to be foolish or to wish upon a star knowing that failure is imminent. They help set a plan of action and encourage appropriate steps forward. They help clients assess each step and help them learn from each step.
Once there are clear expectations, the right dose of encouragement to take the next steps, and the entrepreneur knows what to do next, then you’re both ready to hit the ground running in your next mentoring session.
Featured Image Credit: Pexels; Thank you!
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