You now have a mentor. What’s next?
SUMMARY: Contrary to popular belief, the mentor-mentee relationship is not a one-way street. In fact, having a mentee is one of the best facilitators of self-actualization. By that I mean, the mentor learns as much as the mentee–if not more–in a mentor-mentee relationship as 1.) they get to transfer and teaching practice (i.e., challenging their understanding of the topic), 2.) they get to explore their educator hat (i.e., how they facilitate learning and who they are when they teach), and 3.) they get to multiply themselves.
The Role of a Mentee
A great mentee challenges their mentor’s thinking. The worst thing you can do as a mentee is to believe everything they say. As a mentee, you are your mentor’s most trusted inquirer. To become a believer is to destroy your relationship. In a healthy mentor-mentee relationship, both parties are each other’s “mentors.”
The goal is to refine each other’s ideas, and much more deeply–ways of thinking. You should be showing each other perspectives that the other person can’t see, which is why it is almost always ideal that your mentor is someone outside your generation group. If possible, seek a mentor of experience that is twice, or thrice your age. That way, due to the vastness of cultural differences, even on topics that you agree on the definition or practices on, you can see perspective differences.
This skyrockets your design thinking skills as you can permanently empathize with someone that provides unfiltered, true, and raw feedback.
Can you outgrow a mentor?
This shift in perspective is crucial in taking care of the relationship. Mentor-mentee relationships that are built on unequal platforms and expectations tend to be fragile. In the ideal case, however, the mentor-mentee relationship functions intact regardless of the difference in ability.
It is inevitable that the mentee outgrows the mentor. Often, the mentor’s ego takes offense in the new difference inability. In traditional mentor-mentee relationships where the mentee experiences hyper-growth–and in the unfortunate circumstance that the mentee’s line of work overlaps with the mentor–conflict in both their personal and professional lives arises. In this case, there are often two responses that the mentor can employ: 1.) they can either compete with the hyper-growing mentee or 2.) they can fund the mentee.
This is a rather bland approach, as most mentors do not see the third option–give the mentee a piece of the business and let them handle the operations. Enter the evolution of a mentee to become a protege and the multiplier DNA of a CEO.
The greatness of a CEO is determined by how much he can multiply. As much as there’s a difference between clock telling and clock building, there’s a difference between developing a great venture and developing a great protege. – Florentino A. Hernando (2021)
The difference between a mentee and a protege
The aforementioned is my case with my fellow co-founder, builder mentor, partner, and friend, Florentino Hernando. When I met him circa June of 2021, we discovered an overlap in what we do. As a venture developer, I develop ventures by scaling ventures 100x through visionary management services; FAH as an executive advisor, on the other hand, installs world-class business principles that accelerate performance by 100x.
In simpler terms, I ensure that the venture reaches hyper-growth; while FAH ensures that the venture’s operations can handle said hypergrowth. In addition to this, there was an overlap in what we do–I also do executive advisory for my builder partners–but after our discovery call he said something I would never forget.
“JC, take my clients.”
And I did. The rest was history. Since then, we have been partners and building ventures together, and we have developed (10+ ventures) to date in particular. He owns a piece of my firm (Balangkas Ventures) and I’m an executive advisor at his firm–FAH Consulting. Right now, I’m handling executive advisory for the firm’s clients and he’s on the verge of building other portfolios of ventures. Win-win.
Of course, this is an unusual story. This does not always happen in business politics, especially of Filipinos. It just so happened too that FAH and I stood for the same core values, with the same DNA, with the same competency standards. But my point is, this should be happening MORE.
Since the mentor-mentee relationship is one of the most trust, loyalty, and competence-reliant relationships, there is a tendency for the mentee to evolve and become a protege. This is what we call the legacy play.
It is important to understand that this is only a possibility, and this should not be in any way your preliminary intention to enter a mentor-mentee relationship. It is a disgrace for a mentee to only develop the relationship with the intent of owning the next piece of the business.
Think of being the protege as the long-term goal/possibility. Since time happens (i.e., aging and death), there are instances where the mentor has to transition from managing the company to just sitting at aboard. When this happens, the mentor has to look for someone he can trust to handle and take care of the venture.
As CEOs, founders, executives, or managers of companies, we have different hats. We can wear the hat of the CEO, the hat of the executive, the hat of an investor, the hat of an advisor at a different point in time. But what is mandatory is that on top of each hat, may we be a mentor or mentee–or just someone engaging in a conversation–we always wear the learner hat. We can always learn a thing or two from someone.
One thing is clear, this death of ego and the openness to possibilities is what makes great, visionary, and legendary CEO’s.
As people-oriented ventures, the extent to which we can go is determined by our people. WIth the right people, nothing else matters. With the wrong people, nothing else matters. Perhaps, one of the right-est people you can ever find and develop is a protege. Because no matter how great you are, you are mortal. You can never bring to the grave everything that you started.
Having a great mentee and a protege is perhaps the key to building a legacy. Finding and developing that someone who stands for everything you stand for, someone you can trust to build and take care of your ventures both in DNA and competence.
Of course, your protege will find their own protege, and their own protege will find their own protege–and you will forever be remembered not just as the founder who started the venture, but as the founder that developed the protege.
There’s a genius, and there’s a genius maker. Those two are of different levels.
Who would you rather be?