Leader vs. Mentor: Know the Difference

The words “leader” and “mentor” are often used interchangeably, and there are indeed similarities between the two. Leaders and mentors are both authority figures, and they both ultimately determine a business’s success.

But there are significant differences between leaders and mentors, and understanding these differences will help you structure your business more effectively. Here’s what you need to know:

Leaders Keep Employees Focused And Productive On A Daily Basis

Managing the day-to-day operations of a business takes a lot of work. There are calls to make, meetings to attend, papers to file, deadlines to meet… and on top of all their own responsibilities, a business leader must make sure that everyone who reports to them is doing what they need to do, too.

That’s a tough task. It can be difficult for a leader to get each employee’s actions to align with what the business wants them to do.

A business leader needs the right personality. They can’t be too passive and easy-going, or else employees will walk all over them. Assignments will be ignored, deadlines will be missed, etc.

A business leader shouldn’t be too strict, either. The employees that work for them will resent it. No one wants to work in an environment where they face serious discipline for tiny mistakes. If it’s bad enough, employees will quit, and then you’ll have wasted the time and money you spent recruiting and training them.

Leaders Also Look At The Big Picture

Being a good leader requires more than just managing day-to-day operations. If that’s all you do, then you’re just treading water. For a business to really succeed and expand, its leaders need to look beyond daily performance and plan for the years ahead.

So, in addition to having the perfect middle-ground personality for leadership, a business leader needs to have a deep understand of your business and your industry. That’s the only way they’ll know where to look for these long-term, high-reward opportunities.

Mentors Take A Step Back

Leaders have a stressful job. In a war analogy, they’re the officers. They’re on the front line, ordering the troops to keep charging forward.

Mentors don’t need to deal with that stress. They’re not on the front line – they’re not even at the command post. They’re the instructors back home at the training base. Their role is to ensure that the officers and the troops have the skills they need to succeed on the battlefield.

Mentors Allow You To Get The Most Out Of Your Biggest Investment

Serial entrepreneur Sidd Pagidipati offers the following insight on building business teams: “The top performers in a field are about four times more productive than the average performer in that field. So, even if you must pay a top performer two or three times more than average to persuade them to work for you, you still get more value out of that arrangement than paying an average worker an average salary.”

That’s good advice. What Pagidipati left out of this analysis, though, is the effect that in-house development can have on an employee.

That’s where the mentor come in. They are your key resource in the onboarding process. Mentors have the experience to show new hires the ropes and teach them how to operate in your organization.

Payroll is surely one of your biggest expenses, if not your absolute biggest expense. What kind of return are you getting on that investment?

Let’s say you take Pagidipati’s advice and hire a top performer that’s four times more productive than the average performer. With a good mentor, you could make them even more than four times as productive. You’ll increase your value even further.

But a mentor needs more than just experience. There are plenty of knowledgeable and experienced people out there who don’t have the ability to transfer that knowledge and experience to other people.

Patience is a necessary trait for a mentor. Many people are slow learners. They need to be shown the same concepts again and again before they understand them. That would drive a lot of people crazy. It can’t bother a mentor.

Mentors must know how to break down a complicated process into a series of simple steps as well, and they need to know how to translate technical terms into plain, everyday English.

Being able to perceive what a person is thinking, how much they understand, and what they need to be told to make a breakthrough is an incredibly rare skill. When you discover someone who can do this, it’s imperative that you keep them in your company.

Mentors should also be used to refine the talent of your high-performing, but low-level employees. They can help you promote from within, which is a great way to boost morale, increase efficiency, and retain your best workers.

The difference between a leader and a mentor can be most succinctly summarized with these six words: leaders lead, while mentors create leaders.