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Can I call myself a mentor?

Aidan Kenealy



Can I call myself a mentor?

When I was running EMGN one of the hardest things I did was trying to find a mentor. I searched and scoured for someone that could understand what we were doing; someone that could help us through our journey. I never did.

I met with plenty of consultants, advisers and mentors, but they all seemed to focus on three things: 1) themselves 2) why I must do as they say and 3) how much I needed to pay them before they would engage with me further – and usually in that order.

Their strategy for winning my business was to needle my insecurities and then leverage my ignorance. They would talk at me about what they do, usually via an overwhelming level of jargon and cliché, and then would quickly try to move me to a “yes or no?”.

These people were obviously providing value to someone, or else they wouldn’t be doing what they were doing. But, why would I hire someone for thousands of dollars to tell me what to do when they have no idea what I’m looking to achieve?

What I was seeking was ongoing feedback and insight from a credible authority. I didn’t want someone to tell me what to do; I wanted someone to work with me to realise my vision for success. It should seem obvious, but very few mentors, advisers, or consultants I’ve dealt with seem to understand this, let alone know how to provide it as a service.

It’s an insight that fundamentally guides how I mentor founders now. I won’t ever tell a founder that they are right or wrong, or what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I instead engage with what they are trying to achieve and help them to articulate and fulfill their goals.

In simple terms, a founder’s business is their business, not mine, so how they choose to run it is up to them. It’s my business to help them make their business the best they can make it. This keeps my position as mentor clear and simple. I engage with a founder to help them get the best out of themselves for the betterment of their business; I don’t tell them what to do.

Furthermore, I believe that a fundamental part of a proper mentor service is getting to know a founder, and their business, before a professional engagement is ever discussed. Building trust and empathy between both parties is a vital part of understanding what the founder wants to achieve, and to ensure they understand if and how I can help. It may take a few minutes, or it may take a few months, but how else can I help a founder succeed unless I truly understand what success means to them?

Nothing I do is rocket science. I just provide the service that I needed when I was growing EMGN. It’s a service valued by other founders and one they are more than willing to pay for. It’s for these reason that I’m now comfortable with calling myself a genuine start-up mentor.  

About the author - Aidan Kenealy - Founder - Hole In One Ventures

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