What makes a great mentor?

Jay Bigelow, CED’s Director of Entrepreneurship, is asked many questions on a daily basis, but one of the most commonly asked questions is, “What makes a great mentor?”

Starting and growing a company is hard (really, really hard), so you want a mentor with business experience. Having someone who has “been there/done that” may keep you from driving the business of a cliff. Good mentors will not only help you accelerate the business faster, but studies have shown business success to increase if the Founder/CEO has a really good mentor(s).

Holding you Accountable

The right mentors will challenge your assumptions and hold you accountable. As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for everything; sales, marketing, operations, finance, R&D, HR, legal, etc. Your friends, family and even coworkers are unlikely to call you out on judgment errors, so having a voice outside your own circle will force you to be accountable.

With no one to report to it is easy to say “I’ll get to that next week, next month, or even next year.” Having strong mentors and a structured mentor meeting schedule can help you avoid this trap. Make sure you find a mentor (or ideally a team of mentors) who will call you out when you make a promise and don’t stick to it. Stuff happens and things get in the way, but if you have an outside perspective of mentors in order to reassess the plan, get refocused on the big milestones and get back on track when they do, then you can expect success.

Mentor Network

It takes time, but building rapport and trust with your mentor can help access key introductions for you in their established networks.  Those introductions may be to prospective customers, to prospective partners, or investors. A warm introduction by a trusted source will not only give you a great opportunity to tell your story but might result in an endorsement to others.  Ultimately, experienced mentors have the right contacts in higher roles, where you need to be telling your story.

A Strong Mentor will be Supportive

Being the CEO of any business is a very lonely journey. And starting and scaling a business is hard work.  Having someone who is in your corner, who is available to listen when you need an empathetic ear, someone to commiserate with when things go wrong, or someone to celebrate with when things go well is the foundation of the human experience. A great mentor can certainly help you achieve business success, but may also be a great friend for life.

Venture Mentoring Service

At CED we use team-based mentoring approach, a framework first developed at MIT (MIT- VMS). Our volunteer mentors have given over 6700 hours of service to nearly 200 companies that have graduated through VMS.

CED’s Venture Mentoring Service is a great resource and offers free consulting from some of the top executives in the community. You can discover more about CED’s VMS program and the vast knowledge base and by visiting our VMS page.

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