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4 misconceptions about mentors

Posted by Catherine Cloutier  March 7, 2014 06:20 PM

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Amid the hubbub of free coffee and cookies at Boston College’s weekly Dean’s Coffee, where business school undergraduates are able to interact with professors and deans outside of the classroom, sits Carroll School of Management Associate Professor of Information Systems John Gallaugher. Known for his commitment to inspiring and advising legions of student entrepreneurs, he’s always at Dean’s Coffee and students stop by each week to chat and share their latest ventures.

When asked about the importance of mentors in the success of entrepreneurs, he explained simply, “Entrepreneurs need mentoring.”

Using the success stories of former students building companies from the ground up as examples, he continued, “The task of building a business with a new product that addresses a new market is really unusual. ‘Is there a problem? Can you solve the problem? Can you make money?’ is easy to say, but hard to figure out.”

If everyone knows the benefits, then why doesn’t every entrepreneur, especially younger ones, have a supportive mentor they can turn to for advice? Entrepreneurs tend to have misconceptions of what a mentorship actually entails. As a result, they don’t take the time to seek a mentor or they form a stilted relationship with someone that isn’t as beneficial for both parties as it could be. Five young individuals in the entrepreneurial community debunk four of the most common misconceptions about mentors.

1. A mentor is a glorified Rolodex.
A mentorship isn’t always about networking. Current Boston College student and founder of Quabblejack, a curation of goods with integrity, Claudio Quintana offered, “I don’t think the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is as much of a utilitarian one as it is more of what you can share in terms of your experiences, advice, [and] problems.”

2. A mentor must be in your field of interest.
Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC) Chair Paul Hillen reflected, “When you have a mentor, you want someone who has been there before.” Individuals from other industries can offer a fresh perspective. Fellow member of the BCVC Executive Board Annie Weber facilitates the process of pairing student entrepreneurs with mentors and explained, “If students need law advice, we’ll match them with a lawyer. If they’re worried about scaling [their business], we’ll match them with someone who went from a team of five to fifty.”

3. A mentor is always superior to you.
Boston College student and Regional Director of Compass Fellowship, a social entrepreneurship program for students, Derek Switaj commented, “The best mentor is a friend to you, who doesn’t mind being critical, who you can open up to, and who is willing to give and take advice. That friendship is of the utmost importance. You need to have no barriers or walls between you and your mentor. A mentor has to be open to that relationship and you need to seek that. It’s a two way street.”

4. A mentor can’t know you’re not perfect.
Co-founder of phyre, an app development company currently responsible for mobile app Rally, and former student of Gallaugher, Patrick Allen commented, “Your mentor has to be someone you can be completely transparent with. If you can’t tell the whole truth, then there’s nothing you can get out of a feedback session.” A mentorship isn’t a job interview. Sharing your weaknesses can even be more beneficial to your conversation with your mentor than just focusing on your strengths.

This story was published as part of a collaboration between Boston College's Magazine Writing class and Your Campus.

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