The thin line between a mentor and role model

Ment Or File photo

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 Source: Sally Bagson

As a noun a role can be defined as the function played by a person in a particular situation. To be a model means to be used as an example to imitate from.

Based on this premises we can say a role model is an individual whose behavior is imitated by another from a distance. It is very likely that the role model is someone that an individual has never come into contact with. They often have certain qualities or practices that are admired a more reason why they are models.

A few examples of these include athletic abilities, charitable contributions and success in their selected occupation. Emulating these attributes is perfectly fine but the drawback to having a role model has always been the lack of 2-way interaction. It is purely an observational relationship with no form of discussion. There is little or no way to get life lessons from the role model.

Role model

Most often than not we tend to refer to a role model as a mentor, now the evidential difference between a role model and a mentor has always been the one on one interaction from the latter. A mentor is someone that the individual works with on a fairly regular basis. Usually, they are in the same occupational field or the mentor served as a teacher of the mentee at a previous point in their life.

The concept of a mentor is based on behavior. For the mentee, it answers many of the following questions “What did you do to get here?” “Have you encountered this problem?” or “I want to succeed but am not sure how?” It involves observing the mentor (similar to a role model) but also includes the opportunity for discussion, evaluation and progress through 2-way communication between the mentor and the mentee.

In the upcoming weeks, threesixtyGh will continue to provide the steps needed for every individual and even for start-up to grow and survive in their various endeavours and industries respectively.

We believe some of these steps are overlooked for lack of relevance but in the long run, it comes to bite us or our businesses in the back. Every single person has a role model, we might not tag them as such but we sit and watch them from a distance, either on a personal front or via social media.

There is something unique about individuals that others want to have and sometimes even mimic. Role models are important however, Mentors are crucial. For instance if a startup wants to thrive, it is prudent that the entrepreneur has a mentor.


Mark Zukerberg, an entrepreneur and the man behind the popular social media site Facebook was mentored by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc. Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men, a business magnate and investment guru was mentored by Benjamin Graham, a finance professor who wrote books on security analysis.

Warren Buffet went on to mentor Bill Gates, an entrepreneur, investor and business magnate. The point here is, the biggest names in business today, relied on a mentor because the truth is you cannot do it all by yourself.

Mentors can come in all shapes and forms. They can be family, a friend, an acquaintance or a total stranger. Whichever one it may be, one thing is for certain, the person must take a personal interest in the mentoring relationship interested in showing you the right path in life.

Other traits of a mentor include, willingness to share knowledge, skills and expertise, exhibits enthusiasm in his field, values oriented person, provides guidance and constructive feedback, sets and meets personal and professional goals, values the opinion of others, respected and motivates others by setting a good example.

The mentee can however have a personal list of traits they want the mentor to possess.

Mentor 3There are a few mentorship programs in Ghana like the Barcamp Ghana program through which one may network and meet one. The good news is, mentors are everywhere a mentor needs not be famous. You may have a microfinance right adjacent your home. Viola!

The owner of this microfinance is a potential mentor. You need only to approach, ask for guidance and strike a relationship. We must endeavor not to only look up to someone from a distance, but get close enough to ask how they got to the top.

Columnist: Sally Bagson