The mentor’s role in personal branding

 

All entrepreneurs experience loneliness. Moved by a strange inner force that is at times bigger than ourselves, we chase our dream, we stubbornly continue against all odds, we are faced with constant decisions, we often make mistakes, we always get up again, rectify, or make the same mistakes all over again—after all, we’re only human—, and when we are swamped by confusion, doubts, or insecurities, we’d give our everything to have a good mentor 24/7 at our side in order to ask for advice whenever we need it.

But what exactly is a mentor?

The word ‘mentor’ has a special etymology, which I shall explain only briefly, as it is well-known. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus decides, before setting off to the Trojan war, to leave his friend Mentor in charge of preparing his son Telemachus for the throne. Thus Mentor, in the absence of Telemachus’ real father, took over his functions and also became a teacher, a wise and experienced adviser, and an inspiring role model.

The two meanings which the Oxford Dictionary attributes to the word ‘mentor’ stem from this myth. A mentor is both “an experienced and trusted adviser” and “an experienced person in a company or educational institution who trains and counsels new employees or students”.

A mentor must have certain qualities, like a renowned experienced in her professional field, interpersonal closeness, an ability to generate trust, and the capacity to stimulate the mentee’s growth without making her less responsible for her own success. A mentor invests her own time, know how, and effort to boost her mentee’s development and ensure she reaches her goals. She does this altruistically, without receiving any remuneration. And yet, she transfers her knowledge so that the mentee can flourish, which makes the emotional reward immense.  

I have been lucky enough to be on both sides, and can say that the feedback is mutual: they both help each other, learn and develop a one-of-a-kind trusting bond. Still, it is essential for the mentor to be confident, and so we must put ourselves in her hands from day one.

I have experienced two mentoring programmes. One of them was the collective mentoring programme from the international Professional Women Network. In this case, a mentor guides a group of mentees in the process of finding and developing their expertise. I am very grateful for this experience, as it has allowed me to meet outstanding and courageous professional women who live in my hometown. But in my particular case, what works best for me is classic, individual mentoring, where a one-on-one trusting and involved relationship is built between mentor and mentee. I have also benefitted from this kind of mentoring via ESADE. Two very different mentors and two very gratifying experiences. 

This year I finally offered my services as a mentor for entrepreneurs at ESADE. The first thing that surprised me was to learn that four entrepreneurs had selected me as a possible mentor, and that the four of them had very interesting projects for Grasp. It was hard to make a choice. I finally selected two and got assigned both of them. I want to thank ESADE Alumni for their wonderful ‘matchmaking’ skills. An ideal mentee for Grasp is an entrepreneur whose heart is in the right place; someone who doesn’t want to relinquish her integrity for the sake of business, who believes in what she does and has a healthy ambition: to contribute to changing the world by improving the way we do business; by building a company that is healthy, happy, ethical, and sustainable.

I was surprised to find that both entrepreneurs were people whose solid personal values clashed against situations derived from their entrepreneurship, or even against the very core of their company. This, obviously, was the only coincidence, as they were both dealing with very different situations.

Mi recipe for both was nevertheless similar: look inside you. An entrepreneur in her thirties, with a solid training, a degree and a master, is not precisely an empty drawer. I think a mentor should help her find her own way of prospering—one that fits with her view of life.

Ultimately, it’s about defining one’s personal brand in accordance with one’s beliefs, aspirations, and strengths. My job as a mentor is to help entrepreneurs speak their own truth; to guide them in the best possible way.

And what have I learnt from this first experience at the other side of the barrier? That what is essential is to listen and keep listening, to make them feel their story is your priority. That a mentor needs to get involved in the solutions, to contribute with new ways and new ideas, even if in the end it’s the mentee’s job to develop them. That one’s feedback always needs to be constructive, and that the effective way to build a personal brand is by strengthening one’s strengths. 

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