Especially in the world of entrepreneurship, having great mentors and being a great mentor is crucial. Mentors can act as guides for a young entrepreneur, helping them avoid classic mistakes, making key introductions and serving as a teacher far after college graduation day.
Over the past few years I have had multiple mentors, and been a mentor myself to others. As President of the Entrepreneurs Club, a key part of my role is to act as a mentor to all 640 of our members, and especially to the younger students leading the club on our executive team. On top of that, I am honored to have quite a few great mentors to guide me, such as Graham Brooks at .406 Ventures, Gordon Adomdza at Northeastern University, and Ken Coleman, co-founder and former EVP at TimeTrade Systems.
So what makes a great mentor? There are varying degrees of how intense the relationship can be. In some cases, it is just a check in once in a while and an open line of communication to ask questions. When I play the mentor role, I like to take a very hands on approach. Especially for my younger colleagues, my goal is to give them tangible feedback, advice points and action items that they can use to advance their careers. More specifically, I suggest a mentor does the following:
1. Be critical
I call my mentees out a lot, anytime they make a mistake. I clearly explain to them where they fell short and how they can improve. It’s much better they hear this from you so they can improve for when it counts.
2. Focus on soft skills
This means proper business acumen, wording in emails, etc. I am constantly reviewing sent emails / any written doc (ie a resume) with my mentees and making suggestions for improvement.
3. Make introductions
And make a lot of them. Build up your mentees’ networks. I make many intros via email and suggest my mentees set up meetings.
4. Guide, don’t do
Be sure to make suggestions, but never give orders and never do the work for your mentee. I always use the phrasing when making a suggestion "I would consider doing X"
5. Suggest tangible action items
I always provide, in bullet list format, clear ideas for my mentees to consider executing to contribute to and advance whatever they are working on.
Ultimately, the relationship will depend on the time, flexibility and personality of the both the mentor and the mentee. If you want to find a mentor of your own, there are plenty of great programs in Boston to help you, like Sean Lindsay’s Founder Mentors or Northeastern University’s venture accelerator, IDEA.