Smart leaders know that their success is tied directly to how quickly they can latch onto sound strategies and dodge pitfalls. Being surrounded by mentors is one way to accelerate your learning curve. Find people who have successfully navigated the hurdles you face, and lean on their experience to inform the decisions you make.
I started Praxis with my co-founder Dave Blanchard to provide mentoring to high-potential social entrepreneurs leading early-stage organizations that advance the common good. We believe that these young leaders benefit enormously from access to world-class mentors—men and women who have built billion-dollar businesses and launched non-profits delivering significant impact at scale. With connections to knowledge and networks, our Praxis Fellows will hopefully grow faster and have a greater chance of success.
Peter Greer, CEO of the microfinance organization HOPE International, is one of our mentors. He practices the art of mentorship as well as anyone. He is generous with his time to up-and-coming leaders, sharing what he’s learned through his own experiences. And he’s constantly seeking the counsel of people from an older generation. His approach to mentoring is a model worthy of emulation.
Peter calls it “2x2x2″—a relationship with 2 hours of conversation, 2 times a year, for 2 years. It may not sound like a lot of time, but when the mentor is someone with a rigorous, full calendar, it is counterproductive to ask for more time. The busiest people simply don’t have much time to give, and may be turned off by a potential mentee who sounds needy or too demanding.
A defined period of duration is also helpful in setting the parameters of the relationship. It is long enough to make a meaningful impact but short enough so a mentor knows this is not an open-ended commitment. Spacing the conversations six months apart allows the mentee adequate time to implement the advice offered by the mentor, and return with concrete results and strong follow-up questions.
Another Praxis mentor is Jena Nardella, the founder and Executive Director of Blood:Water Mission. For several years, she has been mentored by Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission. She is able to maximize their limited time together by preparing well in advance of their meetings. Before a mentoring session, Jena provides Gary with a written update on Blood:Water Mission’s progress and upcoming opportunities and challenges. This gives Gary time to consider thoughtful questions to ask, comments to share, and even tasks for Jena to complete prior to their meeting. As a mentee, your job is to give your mentor the best opportunity to speak into your organization and your life.
Remember to properly thank your mentor. Make sure he or she knows you value the time they’ve invested in you, regardless of the outcome of their advice. That might come in the form of public gratitude or through a private hand-written note. By paying attention to these details, you’ll reap the benefits of the mentoring relationship and likely gain a friend for life.