During the journey to achieve a goal, one can encounter numerous challenges. Support and guidance from an experienced person can be invaluable to navigate through these personal and professional endeavors. This experienced person has a solid understanding of how to identify and strengthen any weaknesses holding you back from achieving a goal. As Isaac Newton noted, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
Understanding what to expect when interacting with experienced people helps ensure desired results. Generally, these interactions fall into three categories: mentor, coach, and advisor. Researchers have developed common definitions to know how and when to engage each. The following provides an overview of each type of interactive relationship.
Mentorship is the most encompassing relationship. Mentors serve as a role model for the mentee, who personally admires and wants to emulate the mentor. A mentor does not have to be experienced in a specific area, yet helps in the overall professional and personal development of a mentee. Mentors generally serve as a source of inspiration and feel fulfilled by providing insights and lessons learned. Common definitions of mentors are:
“Someone who inspires curiosity, challenges assumptions and expectations, guides through asking probing questions, and directs about what he doesn’t know and is eager to learn along with the mentee.”
“A protected relationship in which learning and experimentation can occur, potential skills can be developed, and in which results can be measured in terms of competencies gained.”
The term “coach” is most commonly used in sports, but the concept includes management, public speaking, career development, and more. Coaches offer guidance, skill-building, and perspectives grounded in decades of experience. Unlike mentors, coaches do not usually serve as role models. Their relationship with an individual or business is highly formalized and coaches are typically viewed in a similar light as fee-for-service consultants. Coaches train the person/team in a certain area because the goal is to facilitate learning and results. A couple of definitions are:
- “The support that helps the person to develop and acquire necessary skills.”
- “Aimed at bringing out the potential of individuals through deliberate intervention activities to develop and achieve speciﬁed goals for the individual.”
The role of an advisor can be similar to a mentor, but this relationship is more formal and shorter term. One does not need to admire or try to emulate the advisor. Advisors provide value to the person or team by giving feedback on specific questions. The scope of advising is limited to resolving specific issues. Definitions are:
- “A person who provides time, expertise, and connections to the individual. Usually, there is a form of payment in terms of equity or cash.”
- “Someone who can help an individual shape their business in the short to medium term.”
These definitions apply to entrepreneurs and startups that need various types of support at different stages of development. The entrepreneurial journey can get challenging and outside assistance can help along the way. The subsequent sections discuss the use of mentors, coaches, and advisors in this context, providing clear distinctions between each.