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Why Bother with Mentors?

About the Author | Sylvia Pavlova 

Sylvia Pavlova MBA CMC is the Founder of PropTech Bulgaria - the one-stop-shop for everything which concerns PropTech in Bulgaria. PropTech Bulgaria is the national PropTech association of Bulgaria and the driver behind uniting the Central & South-East European PropTech. Since 2018 PropTech Bulgaria represents the country in all major international PropTech organizations. 

Sylvia Pavlova is a Board Member of the European PropTech Association – PropTech House.

She is also an international startup mentor of MBAs who want to undertake the entrepreneurial development track. For 8 years now she has been a mentor to startups from the UK, Greece, UAE, Bulgaria, Austria.

Sylvia achieved her MBA degree with OUBS, the UK in 2013. She also holds degrees in Commerce & Management and Law. Since 2016 Sylvia Pavlova has had an internationally certified management consultant (CMC) status in Strategy and Business Development. She was part of the Strategy departments of large holding companies in construction and ITC. 

In this article Sylvia examines the advantages of receiving mentoring and the benefits to career development during study and post MBA. 

It is all about ‘to have’! To have a family, a car, two cars, three cars, a house and an apartment . To have a summer vacation on the Islands of Maldives and a winter vacation in the Swiss Alps. To have a fast-track career. To have an MBA degree … 

Then next stage starts. One starts comparing what one has to what the others have. Then the vicious circle of an never-ending strife to stay ahead of all, or at least be amongst ‘the best’ catches hold of us. If someone has anything more, there are so many ‘volunteers’ who try to take it away. This has been the life of our parents and this life is now ours. 

The Paradigm Shift 

This is the scarcity mentality principle in action. Resources are limited and the more one has, the less is left to the others. From the vantage point of this paradigm, life looks like a pie-chart. 

But at a certain moment in our life (that moment may not be planned, nor forecasted by anybody!) we may meet someone who is not concerned with what s/he has, and freely gives us his/her resources (time, money, contacts, knowledge). Since we are so ‘programmed’ to get, we are quick on the take. This moment we may be tempted to believe that we have more than him/her. But life is not an equation with an expected and forecasted outcome! On a closer look, we realize that the one who gives more, receives more. 

This is the abundance mentality principle: there is more than enough for everyone under the sun, and the more you give, the more comes into your life. 

These two life principles are plainly revealed just in one sentence in the ancient book of Proverbs, chapter 11, verse 24 says, ‘There is that scatters, and yet increases; and [there is] that withholds more than is meet, but [it tends] to poverty.

Paradoxically, though mutually exclusive in one’s life, both principles hold true. What is left to us is to choose which one will lead our life. 

The situation we find ourselves in: 

When having the MBA in our curriculum, others assume that the only way to keep us inside the organization is to ‘grant’ us a higher position and a higher salary, and nobody is prepared to give up his turf ground to us just because we are highly qualified. 

Our new qualification changes not only others’ assumptions, but our own as well. It is normal to anticipate that our new degree will change our careers for good. But at the very beginning the best that could happen is to have no change, because the norm is to change for worse. 

Others mistake our desire to achieve ‘next level of performance’ with ‘next hierarchical level’.

Our anticipations will have also changed. Consequently, our behavior has changed as well. It seems that we have stirred up a conflict with our previously clearly defined role; with organizational silos and predictability. 

We have completed our MBA in order to improve ourselves. By extension, our performance has improved as a natural result from our increased awareness and knowledge. We anticipate that such an improvement will be immediately recognized and rewarded. But we clash against reality! 

Higher salary infers lower profit for the organization in the balance sheet! It also suggests higher efficiency but it is a lagging indicator. 

As MBAs we are ‘programmed’ to assume that as soon as we have our MBA, we are necessarily on a vantage ground more than the others, i.e. we deserve a larger piece of the cake: a higher position, a higher salary, higher status … This is a statement that proves true to some and false to others. Company-sponsored MBA students usually get promotion since their MBA was made part of their career development within the company they work for. But it does not hold as true to the self-sponsored MBAs. What is there waiting for them when they exit the graduation ceremony hall, is the moment of disillusionment! This is the point when the chance to switch off the 1st principle and switch on the 2nd one sparkles! We may consider ourselves lucky, if we meet a person who can support us to get through the paradigm shift. We call such people ‘mentors’. 

Why Mentoring? There is one very important peculiarity of the 2nd principle. Why ‘to have’ isn’t so important to people who live in sync with the 2nd principle? Because ‘to be’ comes at a premium. Hence, comparing ourselves to others no longer matters. Each of us is so unique that any comparison is out of reckoning. Mentors have one uttermost priority – to help us realize who we are, raising our self-awareness to help us identify and steer the right direction of our life. Coaches help us master a skill that will make us one of the best or the best one amongst the others. Coaches operate in the 1st principle mindset while mentors are driven by the 2nd one. 

Then we slowly begin to realize that the tipping point of our new life following the graduation ceremony is to BE an MBA, rather than to HAVE an MBA.

Facing the True Competitive Advantage of Our MBA 

The situation we find ourselves in: 

The very moment we exit the graduation hall and enter our office we face the others’ assumption that we are no longer that loyal to the organization because obviously, our career mobility has increased. 

It is true that the MBA increases our mobility, and others start regarding us as more powerful and less loyal. But in the make-or-buy decision (Besanko et al, 2007), some companies prefer the ‘make’ option and sponsor their employees to study MBA against the obligation of employee to sign a long-term employment contract. Consequently, self-sponsored MBAs should predominantly focus on companies which prefer the ‘buy’ option. It would be far more difficult to enter a company which has appropriated the ‘make’ choice in its culture. 

Each of us can make an assessment of the new value we have with the MBA. Though not exhaustive in details, Porter’s Diamond Model (Besanko et al, 2007:446-8) serves a good starting point for evaluating the extent to which our MBA gives us a competitive advantage. Porter defines 4 groups of interrelated conditions which shape the value of the competitive advantage one has. These are: 

(1) Factor conditions which may stand for the other educational degrees we have; the experience we have; which industries we have experience in, etc. The answer to some questions can help us better define these factors, e.x. Do the educational degrees I have qualify me to move to another industry in spite of the lack of
experience I have? Does the education I have qualify me to hold certain positions despite of deficient previous experience?

(2) Demand conditions. These may be detected through answering such questions as: Is there demand for my MBA in my current company? In the industry I am currently working, i.e. in other companies in the same industry? Which industries show higher demand for MBAs in my country? What about other countries?

To constantly feel the pulse of the market, we may get connected to head hunters and be subscribed to newly opening releases recruitment agencies regularly post. To increase our exposure, we may become members in short-listed business groups. There are social groups that are restricted to MBAs only, and employers who hire MBAs may approach you through this channel.

In summary, factor conditions specify the ‘product’ we offer while demand conditions deal with the market demand for that product. Hence, analyzing the close interaction of the two is crucial.

(3) Related supplier or support industries. These conditions focus on our proximity to Universities, incl. membership in the alumni associations. Universities are often the chain spanning employers and students, thus smoothing the interaction between the first two types of conditions. Networking with our ‘suppliers’, i.e. the educational institutions we have graduated from, gives us access to other alumni who may work exactly in the company/ industry we aspire for.

(4) Strategy, structure and rivalry. Here we have to analyze whether lower-level degrees are sufficient for positions we aspire for. Do other factors (besides education and experience) play role in the decision-making?

Why Mentoring? If we find ourselves in such a situation, the mentor can advise us on how to make the supply-demand match. Or, through constant networking we may find out that somebody from the alumni, or the University administration, or a fellow member in any business group, or a recruiter agrees to be the liaison person who can introduce us to a certain company or industry. This person could be our next mentor – the person who opens us the door! 

The ‘Fight or Flight’ Temptation

The situation we find ourselves in: 

Our expert power (Bachanan & Badham, 2008) has increased, thus stirring up the balance of organizational silos. 

As a natural consequence, others try to restore the previous balance through exerting types of powers they have. No wonder if someone all of a sudden intensifies his/her coercive/ authoritative/referent and/or affinitive power towards us. 

Under such circumstances of adversity we may choose just to wait for the tempest to have its go and subdue. If we don’t demand anything and don’t try to change any part of the status-quo, the large waves may get quiet soon. This is why there are so many MBAs I know that remain in their position despite their higher qualification. 

But other MBAs have chosen to fight and get out of the glass sphere that suddenly encompasses them. It is not just a glass ceiling. In many cases MBAs have other master degrees previously gained. They are recognized as professionals in their previous role, but not in the management arena. 

Mentoring is the way out of this ‘fight or flight’ mode of professional life. 

Why Mentoring? Whether we have chosen ‘the fight or flight’ mode, we can get out of it if being helped by a mentor. In the former case it is someone who can help us ‘push boundaries to identify new opportunities and learn new skills’ (Deloitte 2013:10). In the latter case it is someone who can guide and protect us along the way out of the conformist behavior. 

Nature or Nurture 

The situation we find ourselves in: 

The fact that similar things happen to us does not suggest by implication that there is one ready-to-wear solution to the problems we face. The way out is individually tailored and mentoring eases the pain to future gain. 

There is close similarity between the two agricultural methods of crops growing nowadays and mentoring. The most wide-spread method to feed plants is through adding the lacking substances. In organic farming however, it is the soil we feed, not the plant; and the plant gets what it needs from the soil. The former approach is very easy to do and renders results more quickly. But fruit are good in shape and not that good in taste. In organic farming it takes much more persistence and sophistication to grow plants, but definitely plants are less dangerous for human health and prove more tasty. 

The same two approaches can exemplify what happens to MBAs ‘ careers after graduation. We observe the former approach when the MBA graduate gets everything on a ready-to-serve basis. It is the easier way with many quick-fixes, but the MBA misses the opportunity of changing disposition that can only enable him/her to overcome ‘plant diseases’ on one’s own. 

The second approach is observed when the ‘soil’ of the MBA’s life is saturated, i.e. the MBA takes advantage of all difficult circumstances which come across in his/her life in order to build up that healthy disposition to deal with everything no matter what comes along the way. 

The mentee in the former case is more a protégé of his/her mentor. While the mentor in the latter case acts as the farmer and utilizes any kind of circumstances to support the mentee in reaching a mature state of mind through building up a healthy disposition. 

Why Mentoring? Mentoring is the way to strengthen our individuality. Though as MBAs each of us may find him/herself in the situations thus far described, each of us lives under different circumstances and has a different personality. This is a valid reason why we must manage our lives differently. 

In all situations described we must change our disposition first, and gain the return of our investment in the MBA degree as a consequence. As a recent Deloitte report states, ‘While the rapidly changing business environment causes skills to become obsolete more quickly, dispositions endure.’ (Deloitte 2013:7) Thus, the skills and knowledge we have gained through the MBA may deteriorate but what will remain is the paradigm shift. 

We need a person who can help us perceive ourselves from the outside, and can support us persistently. We need such a person every time we sense that we get stuck in the nowhere, and we find ourselves in dire-straits with no way back. 

And once we are out of this turbulence, we are obliged to return the favor and become mentors ourselves. But this is the topic of a different story called ‘Why MBAs must be Mentors’. 


  • Besanko D. et al (2007), Economics of Strategy, 4th ed., John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken 
  • Buchanan, D. and Badham, R. (2008), Power, Politics and Organizational Change: Winning the Turf Game, 2nd ed., Sage Publications, London 
  • Deloitte (2013), Unlocking the Passion of the Explorer, 2013 Shift Index series,
  • Proverbs, Bible (KJV)

Reviewed 2022

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