What’s the difference between a coach, a mentor and an advisor?
A common piece of advice for business owners is to surround themselves with people who can help out and offer the benefit of their knowledge and experience. It’s generally a good move – after all, why not seek to learn from others and get some additional perspectives on what’s happening in your business?
It’s easy to get confused, though, about who to turn to for what sort of assistance. Last week, my colleague Wendy Mather talked about what a business coach does. But how does that differ from a business mentor? And what about an advisor – where do they fit in?
The terms are not interchangeable. Each one has value to add, but each one is different in what they do and how they do it. Opinions will vary about the points of difference, but here’s how I think you can tell a coach from a mentor or an adviser
Coach: the regular, methodical corrector of technique.
Think of a swimming coach, standing on the edge of the pool. Her aim is to get the best out of the swimmer she’s coaching. She’ll monitor performance, advise on technique, suggest new strategies and keep an eye on the competition. She may or may not jump in the pool with her swimmer, but she’ll always be thinking about the end goal.
Business coaches are similar. They meet with you regularly. They make suggestions about how to improve things, but not just for the sake of change. They have larger goals in mind, ideally ones agreed to with you. They question why things don’t happen because they are looking for the barriers to success and how to overcome them. They seek to correct errors in operations and they have a lot to say about strategy… because like the swim coach, they are focussed on that end goal.
They might be engaged to help you achieve a short term objective. Or they may become a permanent fixture, seeking continuous improvement and moving on to new goals when the first has been achieved. They are confidantes and companions on the journey, so you get the best out of them through regular, structured contact.
Mentor: the long term guide, investing in your future.
A mentor is like the CEO of an organisation who inspires loyalty and commitment from her staff. She has a wealth of lived experience and she’s knows a great deal. If she wants to develop one of her staff to explore their full potential, to follow in her footsteps and maybe even take her job one day, then that’s a basis of a mentoring relationship.
A mentor is invested in your personal development and they realise that it is a long game. Their contact with you may be regular or irregular, and discussions with them may be in-depth or there may be occasional pointers here and there. But their key characteristic is that they have walked the path you want to walk and are willing to share their knowledge, their contacts and their experience.
A mentor relationship is about the transfer of skills, and there is an element of recreating someone in their own image. The person being mentored is receiving ongoing advice on which strategic moves to make. A valued mentor relationship need have no end date; it can go on as long as the two parties wish and if the match is right, can be a highly rewarding experience for both.
Advisor: the technical specialist who helps steer you through the tricky bits.
We all have times when we need to call on specialist advice. Not just lawyers and accountants and doctors, but also mechanics, IT experts … indeed anyone who has the specialist knowledge to help us through a particular issue.
Advisors tend to be focussed on problems – because problem solving is what they do. You turn to them which you have a pressing issue at hand and you don’t have the time or expertise to fix it yourself. A good advisor will know their area of expertise comprehensively. They will know the things you have to do to sort things out. They are the people you turn to guide you through complex deals and arrangements.
All this suggests a short term engagement with an advisor and that may well be appropriate. Longer term contact with advisors can also be beneficial. An advisory board, made up of people whose advice you value and want to access regularly can be a powerful addition to a business. And deep and effective relationships with advisors are the sort which can be dipped into when needed; a phone call here or a coffee there with someone who has a high level of familiarity with your business can be enormously helpful.
The common thread? Trust
Whether you reach out for help to a coach, a mentor or an advisor, there’s a few attributes which are common to all. They will all take a genuine interest in you and your business, beyond that of a client/supplier relationship. They will be smart, thoughtful and be prepared to help out in a variety of impromptu ways. They will be generous in the time and information they share with you. Above all, they will listen and seek to understand your circumstances before prescribing a solution.
The common thread woven through all of this is trust. If you look for someone to help build your business, you will be sharing a lot which is personal, confidential and possibly difficult. You will be looking for someone to push you and to ask the hard questions. So finding someone who knows your industry, understands your position and can offer shrewd guidance is crucial, but they also need to be someone who you’re willing to share a lot of time and information with.
Whichever you choose, your engagement with them can be a catalyst for positive and lasting change in your business.