Mentors 7/18: Be Responsive

Techstars Boulder Demo Day was last week and it was the best one yet. As I got up on stage to close things out, I was incredibly proud of all of the entrepreneurs, but even more proud as I looked out at the audience and saw many of the mentors who make Techstars the experience that it is.

Element seven of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto is Be Responsive.

Yeah, it’s obvious, but it’s remarkable to me the number of people who don’t internalize this.

Being responsive means more than just responding to email and phone calls. It means more than being on time to meetings, closing the loop on things you commit to doing, and being intellectually and emotionally available to your mentee. These things are “hygiene issues” – if you can’t at least do this you aren’t going to be an effective mentor.

Being responsive means to be present. To engage with the mentee. To put yourself in her shoes and try to really understand what is going on.

Ponder some of the synonyms for the word responsive:

  • quick to react to
  • receptive to
  • open to suggestions about
  • amenable to
  • flexible to
  • sensitive to
  • sympathetic to
  • aware of

Receptive, amenable, flexible, sensitive, sympathetic, and aware. This requires real emotional intelligence on the part of the mentor.

Everyone has different ways of prioritizing their time and different modes for engaging with others. Understanding this about yourself, and then being clear and consistent about it, is important if you want to be an effective mentor.

You get to define your approach and what you mean by being responsive. While my approach is simply one way, I’ll use it as an example. I focus on three dimensions – a people hierarchy, interaction dynamics, and baseline expectations.

My people hierarchy is well-defined and has been for a long time. In descending order of importance (and responsiveness), I have me, Amy, my family, my partners, our staff, close friends, our investors, the CEOs of the companies we are investors in, the founders of the companies we are investors in, the employees of the companies we are investors in, our co-investors, service providers (lawyers, bankers, accountants) we work with, and then everyone else. I think of this as concentric circles with Amy and my family at the center, then my partners, then staff / friends / investors / CEOs / founders, then employees / co-investors / service providers, and then everyone else. I rarely rank individuals ahead of others within one of the circles, but I do plenty of short term prioritization based on whatever is going on.

My interaction dynamics are fuzzier. I hate the telephone so I reserve it for use with people I have a close relationship with. For everyone else, I’d rather interact via email. I used to travel constantly, but I’ve cut that down substantially in the past year, so I do a lot of video conferences. I don’t like having sitting meetings – I’d rather go for a walk, so I have 15, 30, 45, and 60 minute routes around town. I’m fidgety when I’m in a meeting that lasts longer than an hour, but I’ve trained myself to be in the moment for the meeting however long it takes and, if I can’t hang in, excuse myself for a little while and regroup. Overall, when I’m with another human, I’ve tried to shift away from multi-tasking and instead concentrate on one thing at a time, focusing on whatever is going on. When I’m not with humans, but in front of my computer, I shift into a “cover a wide range of things” mode, where I do a lot of short tasks switching between them.

My baseline expectations are straightforward. I respond to every email I get. I return all the phone calls I get – although often by email. I try to close the loop on anything someone has asked me to do. When I’m with someone, I am with that person.

Now – I don’t get a A+ on all of this, nor do I view that as important. It’s as not static – I expect that these will change over time. But by writing it down and committing to it, I define the structure in which I am responsive. But remember, these are the hygiene issues. This is the framework in which one can then be responsive.

If I did all of these things, but never listened, wasn’t receptive, flexible, or sympathetic I’d be a crummy mentor. By having empathy, being able to engage emotionally with a mentee, and being aware of what the mentee is going through, one becomes responsive to them and their needs.

  • Thanks so much for your “response” principles, Brad. Many of us really appreciate it!

  • Yup. Mentoring is active listening, and being present. It’s not a passive activity

  • Elizabeth Kraus

    I had lunch with Catharine Merigold, veteran VC and mentor, last week and she said something that made such an impact on me. She said something like: “I have tremendous respect for entrepreneurs. Many VCs think that we have the hard job, but being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing there is. I try to remember that in everything I do.”

    This made such an impact on me because I also have not been getting an A+ on my mentor relationships. I de-prioritize being on time, etc. because I feel like its a charitable contribution and I egotistically think “they should be grateful for my time even if I’m ten minutes late.”

    When I think about it, I have gotten more back from my mentor opportunities than I have given. I need to re-set my ego on this and try to be a better mentor. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Rick

    From this post I’m guessing that I won’t get a call about my thank you note?

    • I responded by the response to your note asking about it. When I got it, I had no idea who it was from.

  • Responding quickly is under-rated. Entrepreneurs appreciate a quick response so much, because their world is on a fast tempo. They need to move quickly themselves, so why slow them down?
    That also sets the bar for the kind of relationship you want to have with them. If you’re not responsive, it says “I don’t care about you that much.”

    • Rick

      If you’re not responsive, it says “I don’t care about you that much.”
      That is correct. We need to keep in mind relationships take time to build. But if you’re not attentive to who is trying to build a relationship with you then you lose out.

  • No offense, but what you really need to do is just relax and let it happen. If you’re spending this amount of time putting personality ducks like this in a row, you’re obviously pretty wound up. Chill baby. You’re rich and working hard to help those around you. Sound like you’re in a pretty good place. Enjoy it with some good fun convo’s with whomever you’re mentoring or whatever.

  • I learn a lot about myself reading about you… And I like the idea of walking meetings.

    • Walking meetings are the BEST!

  • Being proactive is missing from your list. In the past I think you suggested that this isn’t the role of a mentor, and I could see where one could get carried away and possibly do more harm than good. What are your thoughts?

  • I am available 24/7 to all my mentees which is why I only take on 4-6 at a time.