Hey Consultant, I hear you want to be a mentor?

If you want a harvest in one year, grow a crop. If you want a
harvest in ten years, grow trees. If you want a harvest that will last a lifetime, grow people.

Most consultants I know inevitably reach the stage in their professional growth where they want to make a meaningful contribution to society and possibly be known for something other than just making money. Some call it philanthropy or social responsibility but essentially it boils down to connecting to something bigger than commercial pursuit. The first choice at this juncture is usually mentorship, after all it’s basically the same thing as consulting.


Let’s do a deep dive into this question, and focus on 3 of the 12 major differences between a Consultant and a Mentor. First let’s agree on some definitions:

Consultant = a professional who provides expert advice

Mentor = an experienced and trusted advisor

Based on the above definitions, it appears that the mentor and the consultant have similar roles. If that is the case, all that’s required is an analysis of the business model, revenue streams and a slight re-brand.

Being a brand and technology consultant (designer / developer) from age 11, and becoming a certified mentor and actively mentoring businesses and entrepreneurs for the last 5 years, I have come to appreciate the differences between a good consultant and a good mentor. I’ve also come to appreciate the mentors in my life, especially the ones who have allowed me to grow past their ability to mentor. For those thinking about making the transition, there are three critical differences you should pay attention to, in order to make a successful impact.

The Consultant breaks down to build up into solutions.

Consultant preparing to impress a client. Image is everything especially when followed by insightful and creative problem solving.

As a consultant you are rewarded for some specific traits which are well adapted to quickly understand a problem, deconstruct it, improve or replace the constituent components and finally put it back together… with flair preferably. You are able to connect seemingly unrelated dots as you navigate the personalities, relationships and status quo of the problem being analysed, since your ability to process information without being encumbered by emotional involvement, relationships and the aftermath of your analysis is well honed.

Usually, especially when you’ve done a great job at identifying and recommending solutions, you have no idea of the emotional and psychological effects of your intervention, which at times include emotionally spent leadership which feels exposed by the recommendations, middle management frustrations at having their recommendations validated by you but not valued by the company and jittery employees and partners who are unsure of the full impact of the implementation of your recommendations. This disconnect allows you to continue being a good consultant, providing your expert advice based on best practices and the factual analysis of the current environment.

The Mentor builds up to break down constraints and problems into solutions.

A Mentor getting his hands dirty while propelling the mentee towards the goal. Eyes on the prize!

A good Mentor has to play multiple and often contradictory roles depending on the intervention required during any interaction with the mentee. Psychologist, motivator, triage specialist, liming buddy, shoe polisher, critic, most interested person in the room, connector, researcher… these are some of the roles a good mentor has to cycle through.

When you’ve done a good job as Mentor, you get to watch your mentee improve over a period of time. If you’ve done a really good job you will eventually get to the point where you have to let the mentee go, so that they can continue to grow and develop beyond where you are capable of guiding. You will have to be authentic in your advice, since most of the mentoring takes place non-verbally. Your actions, reactions, responses and leadership will always be scrutinized and emulated, and the growth of the mentee will be a reflection of your own growth and development philosophies and practices.

So, how is mentoring really different from consulting?

The three areas we will focus on are: Empathy & Emotional Involvement, Time inputs (billable and non-billable) and Business Model (revenue streams).

Empathy and Emotional Involvement

Scenario 1: During a session with the CEO, the phone rings. CEO asks for an excuse and goes to the back of the room to take the call. As the meeting resumes, the formerly chatty and enthusiastic CEO is now sombre, monosyllabic and not responsive.

Consultant response: Asks the CEO to identify another staff member who can continue the session and allow you to complete your assessment. If none other can be identified, you schedule another date and time to continue the session.

Mentor response: Directly or indirectly finds out the nature of the phone call and how they can be of any help. Mentor might wrap up session and suggest that they go for a drive or for some drinks.

The very simple example illustrates the huge emotional involvement required of a Mentor. Day or night, weekends or holidays, a good Mentor values being reachable and engaged in the emotional needs of the mentee. This is not a charitable exercise, rather the Mentor knows that one’s emotional state has a direct impact on the types of decisions made and how one reacts to stresses. Therefore if the Mentor is to succeed, they have to be plugged into the emotional state of the mentee, both to understand and predict, but also to manipulate.

i.e. If the mentor knows that the mentee performs well in stressful situations when in a state of anger, then the morning before a big presentation or very important meeting the Mentor might call or meet with mentee and engineer an event to cause the mentee to become angry at something. This type of activity has a psychological or emotional impact on the Mentor, who understands the tradeoff for the mentee’s success.

Time Inputs (Billable and Nonbillable)

Scenario 2: You are asked a query to which the answer is currently unknown.

Consultant response: “I’ll research and get back to you.” You then analyse the number of hours left in the project, especially for research and decide if the research and subsequent report falls in the project scope.

Mentor response: “I don’t know. Let’s research it!” While you both do some preliminary research, you’re asking yourself the following questions: “Why is this important to mentee?”, “How will this impact mentee’s personal and business interests?”, “How can I use this situation to help mentee push business to the next level?”, “Is the mentee ready for this information?”. After the mentor session, you likely continue research into the topic to try to understand the interest and how it can be translated to mentee development to success.

Business Model (Revenue Streams)

Consulting is a mature discipline with well defined structures, models and frameworks. The first recognised Management Consulting firm by western standards was established in the late 1800. Through trial and error, scientific application and the rise and fall of consultant businesses and individuals, tried and tested business models per market and business issue have emerged, which you can incorporate into your business. However, as you read this article, the traditional models of consultancy are being steadily disrupted. The result of the above is that depending on where your business operates, you have a buffet of models from which to choose, adapt and execute in your market.

More information on the disruption of the traditional consultancy model is here and here.

Mentorship is a relatively new discipline. While it has been traced to ancient Greek times via the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odessey, it’s been codified and professionalised since around the 1970s and part of the public lexicon by the 90s. Due to the almost altruistic perception of mentoring, there has not been the same impact on the underlying business models. A mentor whose mentoring is not profitable is not seen as a failure, rather a philanthropist whose tool is time rather than money. When you add the fact that most mentors are also full-time professionals it makes sense that the business model options are vague, subjectively successful and open to interpretation. In fact, one of the repeatedly touted benefits of mentoring is having access to the future potential of the mentees for projects, employment or making strategic connections.

There are a few models that purport to maintain the ‘good’ nature of mentoring while maximising the business perspective. The majority of these have a revenue strategy that necessitates using the mentee’s corporation as the intermediary between the mentor and mentee, where the corporation is paying the Mentor for their services to the employees. The only direct mentoring model has a weak association with revenue, as the mentee’s revenue generating capability is a direct reflection of where they are mentally and with their business which needs the Mentor to improve. The Mentor will need to balance any billing with the capacity of the mentee to pay, and also with the perceived potential of the mentoring opportunity.

Here is an old but good read on Mentor models and strategies.

As you start your journey of making the world a better place by making someone else their best authentic self, I hope this high level comparison can help you equip yourself to be ready for the different challenges that come with mentorship. Being a mentor is extremely and uniquely satisfying, especially when your intentions are in the right place and you have the right set of tools to be successful.

In the words of ancient Chinese wisdom: If you want a harvest in one year, grow a crop. If you want a harvest in ten years, grow trees. If you want a harvest that will last a lifetime, grow people.

In another article, I will look at the unique skillset needed to groom vs analyse business for investment.

Are you thinking about mentoring? Let me know why and if this helped.