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What is a mentor anyway?

Mentoring has become a buzzword of sorts lately, with numerous organisations and funds supporting entrepreneurs,

even insisting on providing one as part of the package.

But what is actually a mentor, how is it different from an adviser, consultant or coach, and do you need one?

Let’s start with definitions:

  • An adviser and a consultant basically do the same. The difference is that a consultant is on a short-term assignment while an adviser usually becomes a part of the organisation. The main character of their work-style is that it is one-sided - they tell you what you need to do in their opinion.

  • A coach is a term taken from sports - an athlete’s coach will stand on the sidelines, observe what the athlete does and give feedback and advise how to improve in the future. A business coach knows how to get input from their client, mostly about their (and others’) behaviour in the workplace and provide feedback and advice on how to handle similar situations in the future. Their focus is behaviour and interpersonal relationships at work.

The word Mentor comes from the Greek mythology - Mentor was Odysseus’s friend, and when the latter went to the Trojan Wars he left his son, Telemachus, with Mentor as a sort of a surrogate father.

In the modern business context, a mentor is “a more experienced or more knowledgeable person (that) helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person” (Wikipedia).

The keyword is guide - unlike an adviser or consultant, a mentor will not tell you what to do but try to find a way to help you make the right decisions yourself. Unlike a coach, a mentor will focus mostly on the business side, not the personal side.

Obviously, the boundaries may get blurred, and a good mentor will know when to become an adviser or a coach, but it will not be their main focus.

I, half-jokingly, say that a meteor is a combination of a sounding board, a disciplinarian, and a shoulder to cry on...

As a sounding board, the mentor will help you reach the right decisions for you and your business.

As a disciplinarian, the mentor will make sure that you follow your decisions without procrastination.

And as a shoulder to cry on they will be there when you find it hard to go on.

A mentor, like a consultant or coach, is not a must. You can set up and succeed in running a business without one, but they help a lot.

Being a business owner/manager is a very lonely position as there is hardly anyone to talk to freely. If you are a sole-trader this is obvious but even if you have an organisation, there are things you can’t talk about with your employees, as close to them as you may be. You may have partners, but partnerships have dynamics of their own and the partners many times find it hard to sort things out by themselves. In larger organisations, where there is a BOD you might have a board-member you trust but you always need to be careful about what you say as board-members have their own agendas, loyalties, and responsibilities.

A mentor is someone you can be absolutely open with, and share all your concerns and worries without fearing it will come back to bite you in any way, and by not being a consultant they help you grow and become a better manager.

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