Mentoring 101: You get out what you put in!

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About the Author


Bonnie Nelson is an entrepreneur who has been through it all. She and her partner turned an idea (formed in a basement apartment, of all places!) into a transportation and planning firm with with over 120 employees, eight national offices, and a reputation spanning the globe. Now, as a recent retiree, she supports motivated entrepreneurs at all points along the business growth trajectory to anticipate and overcome their challenges. That’s where Travis comes in. Travis and Bonnie connected on MicroMentor about one and a half years ago, just as Travis was launching his engineering consulting firm. Armed with Bonnie’s structured support, Travis has since grown his workforce, moved into a new space, developed a new service program, and reported sustained growth for the past two years.

From the start, Bonnie employed a mentoring methodology she developed working with entrepreneurs across a variety of industries: (1) Support mentees with the task at hand, but (2) always help them get their heads above water and think through their long-term growth. With these dual goals in mind, she and Travis started connecting once a month for 60 minutes. Each phone call offered Travis the opportunity to talk through what was on his mind with Bonnie, and for her to listen and reflect back what she heard as his key challenges. Each homework assignment they agreed on helped keep Travis accountable and pushed him to think ahead. But, as Bonnie readily admits, Travis’s drive to succeed is ultimately what kept their relationship going and turned ideas into progress. “The whole success is his; he is really serious about the relationship. Other mentees just wanted validation, but he really wants to learn–he’s completely open”.

Having himself mentored numerous individuals through a program with his previous company, Travis knew the importance of approaching the relationship seriously, with challenges identified and an open mind. He recalled the difficulty of working with mentees who didn’t understand the dynamics of mentoring: “The most important person in a mentoring relationship is actually the mentee—the mentor’s focus is to provide support, perspective, and guidance, not do the heavy lifting. Otherwise, the relationship won’t last.” To prospective mentees, he recommends taking initiative and clarifying your objectives: “You need to know what you with that. You need to know that it’s your responsibility to drive it”.

“The most important person in a mentoring relationship is actually the mentee—the mentor’s focus is to provide support, perspective and guidance, not do the heavy lifting. Otherwise the relationship won’t last.”

As of 2018, Travis is heading into his third full year as an entrepreneur, which, based on his projections, should be his best year yet. He and Bonnie plan to continue their mentoring relationship through his new stage of startup growth, and Travis remains grateful for the continued support and guidance of “someone who’s been there before”. Both Bonnie and Travis are firm believers in the enduring power of mentoring and know what it takes to build and maintain a successful mentoring relationship. Do you?