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What is a mentor?

What is a mentor?

I’m often asked what is a mentor, why do I need one and how is it different from a coach?

Mentoring and Coaching are 2 separate disciplines but of course the share some commonalities and a degree of overlap. There are grey areas between the disciplines and the subject often provides for some heated debate

To cut through the terminology I developed a list of 9 roles a mentor can perform for you and your agency leadership team. Some of them overlap with coaching, but they are all powerful mentoring tools. More importantly, they are incredibly valuable to somebody that is willing to embrace them.

1. A Role Model 

What is a mentor if they’re not somebody you can look up to and aspire to be like? It’s immensely valuable to have someone who’s been there and done it on your side. Someone who’s got a business or a business model that you can emulate. Or whose own style and approach you can be inspired by. Maybe they’re somebody who is further ahead of you and whose experiences you can learn from (their successes and their mistakes).

2. A Performance Coach

What is a mentor if they’re not somebody who improves your personal performance? I see this as a crucial aspect of mentoring. A mentor can be somebody who can cast a critical eye over how you are performing. Somebody that can observe your attitude and approach. and tell you when and where you might improve. It should not be confused with delivering performance coaching to underperforming employees. It’s about rating the bar, not about reaching it.

3. A Challenger

What is a mentor if they’re not somebody who can challenge you? You sometimes don’t get challenged enough as a boss.  People expect you to be the guru, the expert and the person with all the answers. But what you occasionally need is to be challenged. It keeps you sharp and encourages you to review your own assumptions more and think things through. You need someone who’s pushing back and not accepting what you say as gospel all the time.

4. A Thinking Partner

What is a mentor is they’re not somebody that can spend time with you and help you think about new ideas and strategy? Someone who can do some of the heavy lifting and some of the consideration for you. Someone who may be able to short circuit or increase the effectiveness or the efficiency of your thinking so that you can get further faster.

5. A Sounding Board

What is a mentor if they’re not somebody that can act as a pair of ears to listen as well as somebody to give advice. Mentors can be great for bouncing ideas off and checking your thinking, particularly when you’re making big strategic decisions.

6. A Guide

What is a mentor if they’re not a guide? Somebody that can show you a map. Somebody that can tell you that this is the route that most people go on so (and warn you about some of the pitfalls they experienced). A mentor can warn you of things that might occur in the future and show you how to avoid or embrace them.

7. An Accountability Partner

What is mentor if they’re not somebody who can hold you to account and help you meet deadlines in order to move forward. Most of us need a little help and support to deliver our own goals and achieve our aspirations. I find this is particularly true for newer agency owners, but also those that have many years experience but have lost a little momentum. 

8. A Professional Friend

What is a mentor if they’re not a friend? But they’re not like your other friends.  Someone who also understands the trials and tribulations and the demands of running an agency. Someone who’s there you can pick up the phone and talk to. Who can listen sympathetically but objectively to what issues you are dealing with.

9. A Cheerleader

Finally last but not least, what is a mentor if they’re not somebody that can pat you on the back once in a while? Running an agency is a lonely job and stressful even at the best of times.  You probably spend only about 5% of our time focussing on the good stuff and the positives. You spend 95% of your time worrying about what is wrong in your businesses and how to fix it.

So there you have it, the 9 roles of mentoring. Which ones are more important I hear you ask?

The answer is that that depends on your situation, the challenges you are facing and even your personality. No role is more important than another. They are equally effective and can be dialled up and dialled down as the situation and relationship requires.




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Gareth Healey
Gareth is the founder of Beyond Noise. He has 25 years experience in the agency sector. A business coach and mentor, he works exclusively with ambitious owner-directors of established independent marketing agencies.

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