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  • Isabella Migwi Fournier

Mentoring and Relationship Design

Mr G., Global Coach on Sustainability through Empathy, sits down to discuss the all things mentoring. From relationship design to his journey to entrepreneurship, Mr. G shares his insights on how to build a more human mentoring experience.

INCO: How did your entrepreneurial journey start? And what does it look like today? 

MR. G: It's evolved a lot. I made pretty good money building climbing gyms and trampoline parks when I first left university. And as fun as it was helping children and adults get over their fear of heights and growing people's sort of confidence through physical challenges, it didn't feel like I was doing enough.

There's a common phrase that says the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is where I learned real empathy - real empathy being that I am not you. In your shoes I'm still not you. So I need to find out fully what is happening in your context and your situation in that country.

Launching companies like Under Armour in places like Cambodia to consulting work for humanitarian and development agencies like the UN in Ukraine helped open my eyes. I landed on the need to shift market share from traditional systems; ways of how businesses do things traditionally to new ways of doing things.

That's typically represented by startups who have a more affordable, more convenient or just a better solution for a problem that's not currently being solved. That can be solved in a way that's more environmentally or socially sustainable. 

That’s how I found myself working in the startup realm, because the more support that these founders, who are already taking on a lot and trying to solve a problem, iterate on their customers and just raise funds, it's a lot of work. They need a lot of support. 

INCO: Empathy is a key word that you have used, and our startups have definitely been benefiting from your session of leading with empathy. Can you share what initially inspired you to become a mentor and why you believe mentorship is important in the entrepreneur journey of impact organizations?

MR. G: As I was working on those solutions as an entrepreneur, I realized how important it was to have a really great network of organizations around you and even part of you. 

A big shift for me in my journey was when I realized that humbleness wasn't helping and where I realized that you do need to share what you're trying to accomplish. And this is sort of some really good startup advice as well, is that your idea is worth absolutely nothing until it is executed. It is still not worth anything until someone pays for it. It isn't really worth much until you start doing it. So what's the harm in sharing with people that you trust?

Most problems lie in execution. And this is why mentorship matters because it can really help organizations on that journey. Firstly, you get mentors because they can save you so many hours or months or years, or even save you from business failure or an MVP failure.

We always talk about failing fast, learning fast. It's not a bad principle. It's only bad when it is too generally absorbed and this is all you focus on. So if you can speak to a mentor and zoom out for a moment and all they do is tweak it, or they shift your audience, or they help your campaign, or they put you in touch with the right person, and that MVP suddenly has legs, then that should be something worth pursuing because it makes it sound like execution is secondary to the iteration.

You should still be iterating, but you should still be executing well. This [Fail fast, learn fast] has been a bit of an issue. It's starting to promote some mediocrity. A mentor can kind of help with this - a little bit of quality control, guidance and direction that can save you so much stress and time. 

I think the mentee-mentor relationship is something of value to the ecosystem. 

INCO: Thank you for that. And very good advice. Sharing on the success stories, what has been your most rewarding experience as a mentor? 

MR. G: There was a startup that had an issue with time. There were two founders. One more of an operational founder and the other was more BD and marketing. They were completely stuck. They had an MVP that was running and it wasn't completely automated. They were constant;y frustrated, stressed, tired, dealing with the day to day slog of it.

In our first session, to help zoom them out, I kindly interrupted them to say “what is your current focus?” To remind them where they should be at this point and they came to their own conclusion that this is this current way of doing things, wasn't serving them, and it could be much, much better.

30 days later they were able to implement some of those changes that we discussed in that one hour. This founder could focus working on the startup and not in the startup. Whereas I think if we didn't have that conversation, they would have just kept going.

The thing with mentors is that they are at a different place in their life, in their startup, or in their business or whatever their journey is. And these two founders had enough humility to actually listen. I think if I came from another peer, they wouldn't have listened. And this is where the mentor sort of figure has influence.

Another story was with a different founder where we were talking about business stuff. Again, in the first session they were discussing their marketing, their position to go to market strategies. But I could sense about halfway through that this person was really struggling to articulate the problem. I sort of took off the standard mentor hat and put on a coach hat and said, “hey, what are you feeling right now? What’s here? Because you seem distracted where you are.”

This is where you give empathy just by being completely curious and present, not just about that person's business, but about the founder themself. And this led to tears. This led to like the things that was holding this founder back in their current life. And then we spent probably the next three months working on the emotional stuff that actually had very little to do with the startup.

We were able to find out why this person created a startup and the thing that they were doing. What had happened was that this person had let go of so much, things that were really holding them back from making better decisions.

Because business is all about decision making, but you make a great decision. You're $1 million away if you just keep making phenomenal decisions or you're three months away if you keep making bad decisions from being broke. And a lot of that decision making is built around their mental and emotional context. How much risk are they willing to manage?How much fear are they able to sort of hold while being courageous? And a lot of that is built around that person's well-being. 

INCO: How do you approach building a strong and effective mentor and mentee relationship? 

MR. G: Relationship design. This is something that we don't teach enough at school, or in homes. It's as simple as designing the relationship. It’s basically learning how to work with that person in the first ten minutes, as opposed to really finding out about that person in ten months. In that first ten minutes, I have my process. 

I talk about the spirit of the relationship. What are we both actually trying to achieve here? It's pretty simple. I'm successful when you are. I'm your mentor. I tell them “you're the most important person in this coaching relationship or in this mentoring relationship.” 

And that means that I care about all of you as a person, not just the business hat. If you need rest, I'll tell you, “take a break”. If you're about to get married, be with your partner. You know, like, do those things first, because if you don't, that holds you back. This is where the empathy piece comes into play. If you are saying that you really care about your mentee, then design the relationship with that full intention, come fully to it, be fully curious.

The second piece is that I have three questions. And these are the sort of foundations. I always ask, do I have permission to interrupt? Then I hold space. Next I ask them: what value is there for you in my interruption? 

As a founder, you're like a washing machine in your head. You think about the same thing in the morning and afternoon, in the evening and late at night when you go to sleep. Our role is to zoom you out. 

Sometimes it does get very hard. You didn't get the funding that you wanted, the results come back about your product and actually your consumers don't need it. When those things happen, it can get very challenging. So interruption helps to zoom them out. 

Number three is: do I have permission to be uncomfortable or to keep them in an uncomfortable space? Usually they say yes, learning by default happens outside the comfort zone, we know. But then the next thing for the mentor is to actually be specific and say, this is what it looks like though. 

For me that means repeating myself. And they'll be like, “I just answered this question”. I clearly don't get it so try again. I need you to reiterate because I don't think you understand, or I don't think you've honed your concept enough to communicate this to the market or it also means asking them how they feel. 

And then helping them flesh out what that feeling is in order for them to identify what their intuition is trying to tell them. Relationship design is about how you interpret trust and how you interpret different things.

INCO: What advice would you give someone who is considering becoming a mentor for the first time? 

MR. G: Check that you have the time and the emotional space. When I first did it, I remember I had agreed to it when I was in a good space, and then I had to do it while I was in a bad space.

But in being a mentor, that helped me realize that other people are doing hard things as well, and there are all these other journeys. That helped me zoom out of my working life and look into someone else's for a moment and get excited for a bit, and then take that energy and then reapply that in my journey. It was good for me to reapply the principles of great business. 

INCO: That's really good to hear. Is there anything else you want to add? 

MR. G: Apply empathy throughout the whole process. Be curious. And practice. Practice because you will just get better at it. 


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