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Why do new leaders need a mentor?

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Richard Hughes Jones



Jun 4, 2022


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Why do new leaders need a mentor?
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Like any high-performing individual, new leaders need to wrap a professional support team around them if they are to give themselves the best chance of success. That team must be trustworthy, objective, and acting always in the leader’s best interests. Having coached hundreds of CEOs and other leaders in startup and high growth businesses, I’m convinced that that team should include: an executive coach, a mentor and a therapist. This post unpacks what the difference between a coach, mentor and therapist is and explains why, together, they make up a such a cohesive support team.

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Why new leaders need a mentor

The words coach and mentor are often used interchangeably, but there is an important difference. The word mentor originates from Greek mythology. When Odysseus sets out for Troy, he entrusts his house and the education of his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor. He leaves Mentor with the instruction to “tell him all you know”. Those words are significant; the essence of mentoring lies in a Directive form learning, based upon the transfer of the mentor’s knowledge and previous experience. The role of the mentor is pass on their knowledge to their mentee. John Whitmore quotes David Clutterbuck, from his book Everyone Needs a Mentor (Amazon UK, US):

In spite of the wide variety of names it is given… all the experts and communicators appear to agree that it has its origins in the concept of apprenticeship, when an older more experienced individual passed down his knowledge of how the task was done and how to operate in the commercial world.

Mentors may or may not be older, but they are always more experienced. For any leader, having the ear of someone who has been on a similar journey to them, perhaps more than once, is incredibly reassuring. It is because a mentor’s approach is more experienced based that it is referred to as being Directive, as opposed to the Non-Directive approach used in coaching.


Source: Effective Coaching: Lessons from the Coach’s Coach (Amazon UK, US), by Myles Downey

A good mentor will be an inspiring individual who you look up to and respect for their knowledge, wisdom and sense of shared values. They will pass on advice, share opinions and help you navigate tricky situations with greater ease. They’ll likely open up connections for you among their network. Because they are more directive, they may help you make decisions and reach conclusions quicker than your coach might. That’s not to say they are always right, and you might want to use your time with your coach to process their advice and arrive at your own conclusion.

Who has your back?

I’ve described these three disciplines independently. Whilst there is an important difference between them, they are interdependent. With the right skillset and background, a coach can very easily act as a mentor and vice versa. There are also many coaches who are psychotherapists. What I’ve tried to illustrate are the subtle, but important differences, that exist between the disciplines and give you a flavour for why you might want to seek out help from all three.

Such a complete and coordinated package of support might feel like a huge investment of time and money. So, whilst you might be asking yourself if you can afford to get a coach, mentor and therapist, shouldn’t you also be asking yourself whether you can afford not to?

If you enjoyed this, you might like:

What is the difference between coaching & mentoring? dives into more detail on this often confused topic.

How to find & choose an executive coach goes into more detail about the role of an executive coach, and provides helpful tips on how to find and choose the right one for you.

Leading on the job: advice for new leaders, in which I pass on what I’ve learnt coaching new leaders in venture capital and private equity backed businesses.

Sign up for my Monthly Newsletter: a curation of articles, books & podcasts about the future of leadership, and follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.