The difference between being a mentor and being a manager
You can dish out advice to anyone. But to be a good mentor, you need to learn to listen first
QUESTION AND ANSWER is my favorite format, whether I’m doing a speaking engagement or my YouTube show, #AskGaryVee, with my community. I can always discuss business or shifting consumer behavior in general, but getting context within a Q&A format allows me to go into detail and provide value to the person asking a question. We can go deep. There’s an actual dialogue.
When you’re able to go deep, getting a better understanding of someone and the problem at hand and forming a relationship, you can serve as a mentor. There’s a difference between mentoring and giving management advice. For instance, I often find myself, from either a professional or a media standpoint, thrown into the mix of a business problem or asked for advice, and I need to gather context quickly. When you have years of experience running a business, as I do, you recognize patterns and can give good advice, even if you haven’t been close to a specific company.
Mentoring is different. Part of the reason I give away all of my content is because the magic is in the last mile. It’s really the details and unique circumstances of a business or an entrepreneur that matter. To use a football analogy, I can always get someone’s business or career downfield by answering a tactical or theoretical question. But I can get it into the end zone if I’m given all the details. In the same way, serving as a mentor or an investor or advisory board member differs from merely giving advice. I want the outcome to work. I’m looking carefully at every detail of a situation, and bringing value and context, not just theoretical suggestions. While appearing on Apple’s Planet of the Apps, I was mentoring people who develop apps and seek funding. Or trying to. One founder really didn’t want my feedback; she was too in love with her idea and couldn’t let go of it, even though I told her it was not going to happen. On the flip side, there were people who were unsure of themselves; I pushed them toward their goals. When I mentor young entrepreneurs, I don’t give blanket advice. I give individual advice to each, about where he is in the moment, or how her business is doing.
Way too many mentors, and advisory board members, hear someone ask for advice and think it’s about them. To be a true mentor, you must deploy empathy and humility and realize it’s about the mentee. To be a useful mentor, you have to be able to advise with a genuine desire to help the other person. Managing might feel close to mentoring, but there is a nuance. When you are in manager’s mode, you have a team working for you; when you are in a mentor’s role, you’re working for a protégé. To be an effective manager, you must also serve as a mentor and understand that your role is to help develop and grow your understudies, versus engaging with them solely in binary scenarios. All the best managers have mentorship DNA in them.
My default position is to be a mentor, head coach, big brother, leader. I stay close to people who have worked for me and moved on. Of course, the relationships change, because I don’t control the businesses they’re in. But the energy behind these relationships in which I play the mentor doesn’t change. What I want to do for them now is be a listener, as I was when they were at my shop, so I can give them the best advice possible.
Ultimately, the reason I’m a fan of mentorship is that it equates with legacy. Legacy is what people say about you when you’re not around. My hope is that the success of those I’ve mentored will speak for itself.