A Reply to Steve Blank on Mentors, Coaches and Teachers

Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Steve Blank‘s (@sgblank) work (I have linked to some of his recent articles below) and I did appreciate the distinction that he had drawn between teachers, mentors, and coaches in his article for LinkedIn.  But as I read the article I found myself upset with his response to a question from an audience member.  I felt that he had shown indifference to the audience member based on his response.  The question was “How do I get you, or someone like you to become my mentor?” The individual was clearly asking for a suggestion on how to find a mentor.  Steve’s response was “At least for me, becoming someone’s mentor means a two-way relationship. A mentorship is a back and forth dialog – it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching. Think about what can we learn together? How much are you going to bring to the relationship?”  Steve finished the article with this advice regarding mentorships “But never ask. Offer to give.”  To me that advice sounds to close to, “I’m too busy, don’t bother me with your question.”

While I agree that a mentorship relationship should absolutely be reciprocal I wonder if his advice is how he approached his mentors, with an “Offer to give?”  Or instead was the “give and take” established after they had first met?  My hunch is that Steve’s answer left this person exactly where they started… with no mentor.

I wanted to suggest a different approach to this question.  Ask the person to write down 1) who they are and what is their story, 2) what they seek in a mentor and 3) what they can give to a mentor relationship?  Steve could then tweet a link to that request out to his 58k Twitter followers asking if any of them are willing to mentor this person.  Let the mentee then select their mentor from the individuals who responded.  This would take almost zero effort from Steve but it would give the mentee a list of possible mentors.  Better yet, it would pay forward the great mentor relationships that Steve was lucky enough to have found when he needed them.

Food for thought:

  • Do you have a mentor or mentee?  Is it a reciprocal relationship?
  • How have you found your mentor or mentee?
  • Have you ever helped others find a mentor or mentee?

Great Articles/Posts from Steve Blank:

[This post is edited from my reply to Steve’s post on LinkedIn from April 4, 2013]

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