The Sherpa Approach to Mentoring

3 min read · 7 years ago


Being a mentor is a rewarding experience and an opportunity to influence something great while watching both a business and entrepreneur thrive. The rewards are real, but discovering how you can best become an invested, trusted advisor and present meaningful guidance can be a challenge.

Related: Be a Mentor: Fashioning Futures for Up-and-Coming Creatives

Specifically, mentorship can look very different depending on the level of involvement you commit to. One approach is for mentors to provide advice on an ad-hoc basis through casual engagement. In this scenario entrepreneurs receive the advice and weigh whether to implement it on their own.

A second approach is for the pair to increase their level of engagement with regularly scheduled check-ins, where mentors provide consistent input over a longer period of time.

Finally, in what I refer to as the “sherpa approach,” the mentor is deeply involved in the planning and implementation phases of the startup journey, providing frequent counsel throughout the process.

This latter model entails significantly more engagement and requires a high level of commitment from both the entrepreneur and mentor to work closely as a team. Rather than simply provide counsel and allow the entrepreneur to carry the burden, the sherpa helps to clear the path, harnessing the entrepreneur’s enthusiasm and optimism. In this way, both mentor and entrepreneur guide the business and develop their own unique journey to success. 

If the pair works well together, this model can bring enormous benefits to both parties. Of course this sherpa approach requires a certain level of finesse on the side of the mentor – to advise and guide without taking ownership of the entrepreneur’s vision. To master this balance, the mentor should consider the four guidelines outlined below:

1. Be a storyteller.

It’s important that the advice given be rooted in experience. Rather than just handing down advice, draw from real-life experiences, successes, failures and lessons learned, to demonstrate context and provide examples of possible or expected outcomes of a decision.

2. Allow time for processing.

Before expecting a reaction to the advice, allow the entrepreneur time to internalize the information and examine it in the context of his or her own internal vision of the company and team. This phase is critical for empowering entrepreneurs to determine their own, informed path. They need to find their own way of incorporating the mentor’s advice, in its entirety or in customized pieces that fit their individual situations.

Related: Shark Tank’s Lori Greiner on the Importance of Mentorship 

3. Provide context and support the implementation.

At this point, the entrepreneur has understood the vetted options and advice, and determined how he or she will follow the counsel. Now the mentor should explore areas where his or her special expertise or experience might help the entrepreneur execute and deliver successful outcomes. At this phase, the mentor can provide complementary resources to reinforce the path the entrepreneur has chosen.

4. Demand accountability.

In the end, the mentor’s job is to advise; but the entrepreneur must remain personally accountable for the success of the endeavor, down to the outcome of each individual approach chosen.

At the conclusion of the counseling cycle, mentors should hold the entrepreneur responsible for whatever customized approach the two have decided on, and then the two should jointly monitor the progress. Based on the evaluation of the outcomes, the pair will determine whether to continue on their current path or find a new one, then tackle that next decision, again as a team.

Entrepreneurs live in an environment with thousands of goals and opportunities, and a thousand more different ways to get there. The value of a mentor is to provide focus, help determine which path will likely lead to success and hand over the reins for implementation.

Being a great mentor means a lot of things, but ultimately it means creating an environment for the entrepreneur to take ownership, establish an achievable set of milestones and share in the successes and setbacks of the growing process.

Related: How to Get the Most Out of Having a Mentor

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