In the startup world is frequent to hear about the importance of having mentors. But the truth is that getting a mentor is hard:
- The goal is to have a person that is considerably more experienced and successful than you at a particular subject. But unless you live in an environment with a big number of success cases – for example Silicon Valley, NY, or London – the pool of people will tend to be very narrow.
- The mentor and mentee relationship shouldn’t be a formal alliance – you shouldn’t email someone asking to be your mentor because you know he’s an expert on a determined topic. Instead of something planned, I believe that this relationship should come up naturally after getting along for a while.
- Since mentoring takes time, which everybody has lack of, some potential mentors prefer to not compromise to that task.
Ask for feedback
What people often forget is that there’s a more reachable tool to get better at what you do: feedback. More specifically: negative constructive feedback. Feedback that focuses on how to improve what you’re doing wrong.
Giving this type of feedback is very uncommon in our culture – people tend to just say nice things, which don’t result in much learning. Per contrary, it just tends to make you feel good about what you’ve done, and thus not aim for improvement.
To contour that, one of the best approaches is to be yourself asking for feedback, AND using certain questions to get people specifying what you can improve. You should ask people questions such as “What I could be doing better?” or, “What you don’t like about this?”.
Quite often, what you’ll hear will tend to make you defend or justify yourself. But avoid it, and just listen. Plus, note that if you want them to give their thoughts again in the future, you shouldn’t make people uncomfortable with what they’re saying.
There’s one other way to help you get continuous improvement, and that’s by being yourself responsible for your own feedback loops. This requires you to have a critical point of view over what you do.
This is easier said than done, because it’s difficult to know what and how you could be improving on, and that’s why you should chase external feedback nevertheless. But constantly reflecting about what you could be doing better will raise your awareness over certain aspects. You should be frequently asking yourself “What I could be doing better?”. If you make an effort to ask it every day, week, or every time you finish a task, you will start noticing aspects that you didn’t before.
About giving feedback
When you’re on the other side of the coin,to avoid common errors there are some good practices as:
- Depersonalize – you should focus on the behaviour, not on the person:
“You are a quite bad speaker.” VS “The presentation was quite bad.”
- Make it constructive by focusing on the improvement:
“You could make the presentation even better by showing some examples.”
- Be specific:
“I didn’t like your presentation.” VS “Your presentation could be more useful if you gave better examples such as …”
In my opinion, constructive (negative) feedback is one of the most underrated tools. It’s a habit that seems to not be ingrained, and sometimes even not well accepted in our culture, but which can give great results. If you can do this and still have a mentor, perfect.