WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A MENTOR?
Since exiting my own agency, I’ve become known and recognised for my skills as a mentor. It’s a part of my business I enjoy, particularly when I’m working with marketing agency founders. But I’m often asked what is the role of a mentor and what benefits can mentoring bring?
I believe we all need mentors, both informal and formal, and I’ve benefitted immensely from learning from some amazing people over the years (you know who you are!) The role of a mentor is multi-faceted and consists of at least 9 roles. So what exactly are these roles, and what are the benefits of mentoring?
The role of marketing agency mentor is only one aspect of Beyond Noise, but it’s often the one that I find I can deliver the most value. Indeed, it’s the reason why I called the business Beyond Noise in the first place. I enable busy agency owners find time to get away from the day-to-day to think and plan. They say a quiet mind can focus more objectively (and we all need to do that from time to time).
Supporting an agency founder through mentoring not only benefits the individual themselves. It brings additional benefits to the people that work for them, people that work alongside them and, of course, the performance of the agency as a whole.
MENTORING & COACHING
There are many different views on what constitutes mentoringand lots of debate around its relationship with the discipline of coaching. I think everybody would agree there are areas of overlap between both.
Personally, I prefer to refer to myself as a marketing agency mentor rather than marketing agency coach. Mentoring to me is more supportive and encouraging whilst coaching is more directive. Both have a role to play in personal development of course, but when I’m working with agency owners I prefer the label “mentor”.
My clients are experienced people who are very creative and entrepreneurial. I think it’s important to preserve the boundary that they are running their own businesses and making their own decisions.
My role as mentor is to support their decision-making using my own experiences to influence and guide them. There are many benefits of mentoring, including accountability, but I don’t see myself as a business coach that “trains” agency owners or keeps regularly checks on their delivery of tasks. My clients can do that for themselves.
MARKETING AGENCY MENTOR
As a marketing agency mentor, I find myself having to use a number of skills and perform a number of roles when working with my clients. I define them as the 9 roles of mentoring. Which role I am performing at any one time depends partly on the situation, but crucially on the needs and requirements of the client.
Sometimes these needs are evident and something they are very aware of, other times I need to do a lot of listening to try to interpret from myself what role(s) is most suitable to help them solve there issue and make progress.
So what are the 9 roles, and how do they translate into the benefits of mentoring?
THE 9 ROLES OF A MENTOR (NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
1. Role Model – What is the role of a mentor if not to be a role model? This is a primary role of any mentor. Somebody the agency owner admires for their qualities, behaviours and experience. Somebody who has been there and got the T-shirt as they say. As a title, “role model” sounds pretentious, but we all need great role models in our lives. I have benefitted from a many in my time. For me it’s an opportunity to share stories and experiences from my agency career in order to help others make a success of their own career and business.
2. Performance Coach – This role offers support in a particular area or areas. It is by name and nature more coaching than mentoring, but within a mentoring context it is short on timescale and focussed on selected topics or issues. Its purpose is to improve the performance and productivity of the agency owner in a particular area. Business Development and Marketing the agency tend to be high on the list here. Importantly for me, as a marketing agency mentor I am not there to operate as a surrogate manager. No agency owner, or any entrepreneur for that matter, wants that.
3. Challenger – One of the most valuable benefits of mentoring. As a challenger, I help the agency founder access a greater level of self-awareness and more of an open-minded approach to key issues. This role excels when a good relationship has been established first and as a mentor I am able to use good, insightful questioning. Mutual trust is vital to success in this area as often it involves me playing the role of devil’s advocate and/or pushing the agency owner to re-think their approach or decision-making.
4. Professional Friend – The ability to speak openly and directly without judgement or fear of being seen as rude is crucial to the mentoring relationship. As a marketing agency mentor, I am able to address issues and concerns that the colleagues, family, friends and even the agency owner themselves, are reluctant to raise or maybe are avoiding. Such issues and concerns must always be dealt with in a constructive manner.
5. Thinking Partner – Some people think better when they have somebody to listen to their thought processes and help them focus on an issue. This demands great listening skills from a mentor. Sometimes just having an experienced ear to listen to their thoughts, allows the agency owner to clarify their thinking and decide on the best course of action for themselves. As a mentor, if I can guide the thinking a little and add value along the way, a better outcome is usually achieved.
6. Sounding Board – A vital role of any mentor and a key distinction from the coaching role in my view. My clients have often made, or at least formed, a decision on a particular subject, but they value the opportunity to sense check their thinking, validity, reaction and effectiveness. As a marketing agency mentor this makes perfect sense. It can’t be done for every decision of course, but for key decisions it is invaluable. As marketing agencies we A/B test lots of our output, so testing our decisions on the running of the business seems obvious.
7. Guide – They say you can’t coach knowledge, but as marketing agency mentor I find that experience is something that can really add value. As a mentor, I ensure all my clients make their own decisions and take ownership of them, but if I do try and guide them along the way with a few relatable experiences of my own in order to advise but not lead.
8. Accountability Partner – One of the key benefits of mentoring is just having somebody who you respect spend time with you on a regular basis. As outlined above, I don’t see the role of mentor to be somebody that cracks the proverbial whip, but I do see accountability and keeping my clients on track as a key output. No matter how driven we are, we can all procrastinate and make excuses for our lack of progress. Having somebody meet with you and expect to see actions and progress from the previous session, can be that added bit of extra motivation that many agency owners need to create growth.
9. Cheerleader – Last but not least, I believe we all need a bit of encouragement at some points in our career and personal lives. Helping the agency owner feel supported, motivated and engaged with the organisation is a crucial part of my role. I often find that as people are so busy and working in a very competitive environment they can lose sight of what they have achieved or how successful they are. They can certainly lose focus on what opportunities lie before them. As we all do from time to time, some of my agency clients occasionally suffer from imposter syndrome. A timely reminder of just what they have achieved and just how much knowledge, skill and experience they possess is often all it takes to get them back on track.
The benefits of mentoring are numerous and multi-faceted. The 9 roles of a mentor can be dialled up or down depending on the individual and even on a meeting by meeting basis. All these “hats” are used instinctively by great mentors to get the best out of their mentees, and in my case get the best results for my agency founders and the businesses they run.