What Is A Mentor and Do I Need One?

Posted March 13, 2019, by Elesha

The right mentor can change your life. An experienced, trusted supporter who has your back, gives you valuable advice and helps you realise your biggest career, business or life goals.  Mentors have guided some of the world’s most influential people –  Steve Jobs had Bill Campbell as a mentor; Bill Gates had Warren Buffet; Tina Turner mentored Mick Jagger; Usher took Justin Bieber under his wing and Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs. 

What is a Mentor and a Mentee?

Mentoring is all about the transfer of knowledge, experience and skills from a mentor to a mentee. The goal of the more experienced mentor is to help the mentee realise their maximum potential in their career, business or life in general.

Formal vs Informal Mentoring

Formal mentoring is fairly commonplace in many organisations or business programs. The mentee is paired with a mentor, usually a more experienced industry peer, and the relationship unfolds under formal guidelines that mentoring partners are asked to follow.

A more informal, organic mentoring experience can offer big personal and professional payoffs too. In these types of relationships, the mentor and mentee naturally gravitate towards each other, rather than being paired up in a formal, documented program. 

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg

Whether the relationship is formal or not, a great mentor:

  • Listens to the mentee’s plans, goals challenges and acts as a sounding board

  • Provides respectful input and constructive criticism on the mentee’s aspirations, decision-making process and behaviour

  • Is a source of encouragement and support during difficult times and setbacks

  • Encourages independent decision making

  • Challenges the mentee to push beyond their comfort zone

  • Facilitates connections and career opportunities for the mentee through networking and access to resources.

  • Shares experiences and will offer specific advice

Tip for mentors: With a successful career, you may be inundated with requests from potential mentees. Committing to too many mentoring relationships may mean you can’t deliver the value and focus you’d like for each mentee. Instead, choose just a few you can really invest in and provide value to.

Tips for mentees: One of the best ways to maximise the value you get from your mentor is to bring them a specific career or business challenge to solve and ask for their help.  Your mentor will be someone you’ll spend time with, even working together, so while their experience is important, personality compatibility is too. Mentors should inspire you by their values and character traits as well as experience and strategy.

Different Types of Mentoring

Small business mentoring

Small business owners and startup founders often seek out mentors for guidance on specific business topics.  Experienced mentors can share their knowledge on cash flow, business planning, innovative thinking competitive, marketing strategy, staff retention, customer service, skills recognition and training.

Career mentoring

Those who hit great heights of success in their career, nine times out of ten, credit a mentor helping them get there. It’s not all about the mentee either, the best career mentorship are mutually beneficial. According to research, mentors experience increased job satisfaction, organisational commitment,  performance, and career success.

Personal mentoring

We’re really all seeking that intangible “more to life”, irrespective of age or circumstance and often mentor relationships aren’t only about career development.  Personal mentoring provides support and guidance on general life issues helping the mentee work towards health, happiness, and wholeness.

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

The role of a mentor and coach are similar in some ways but do have distinct differences.  The analogy of climbing a mountain is often used to highlight the difference between coaching and mentoring.

A coach helps you choose the mountain you want to climb and encourages you to keep going and find solutions things get steep and rocky. A mentor has already ‘climbed’ the mountain you’re attempting to summit and can advise you on the best routes to take, what may go wrong and keeps you focused on the right mindset.  

Essentially, mentors provide specific advice and are more directive whereas a coach doesn’t offer detailed advice, but helps you find your own solution.

Mentorship takes commitment but the results for both the mentor and the mentee can be life-changing. 


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