Do you need a Mentor, an Advisor or a Coach?

 In Blog, Corporate Strategy, Leadership, Management

In this article, we’ll touch on what makes Mentors, Advisors and Coaches unique. Each approach offers you something the others don’t necessarily provide, so it’s important to understand what type of guidance is best suited to you in your current situation before investing time, money, or both.

A disclaimer to leaders:

To start, we want to make it clear that it’s perfectly okay to make this type of investment in yourself. A “better you” is often the best thing for those around you.

Specifically, with SME (small and medium enterprise) executives, it’s often the case that leaders don’t feel comfortable making a conscious investment in themselves when the time or money could have been put directly into the business or staff. Luckily, there’s lots of evidence (see recommended readings below) which makes it pretty clear that being the best leader you can be (by investing in yourself) is generally what’s best for the business.

What is a Mentor?

In short, a Mentor is a role model. They’re someone who you would be proud to be. They have gone through the trials and tribulations you’re expecting to go through. A Mentor has relevant wisdom and freely shares it with you; your job is to soak it up. Often the mentor-mentee relationship is medium-to-long term since a mentor may help to guide you throughout your business journey. This relationship is less formal – think “coffee meeting”. Often a bond is formed since the relationship is less formal and longer-term, so make sure you find a mentor you connect well with. But, how do you “find” a Mentor? You can do research on people who have the expertise you’re hoping to develop, contact them and convince the potential Mentor that you really need their help. And since it’s a longer-term relationship, ask for references before diving in (especially from people they’ve previously mentored!).

Conclusion: find and secure a Mentor when you want to develop your business to be the best that it can be and some wisdom and experience might make a real difference.

What is an Advisor?

An Advisor offers advice and brings value by giving specific feedback about specific questions/problems. They are also a role model, but more specialized than a Mentor. An Advisor helps you solve clearly defined problems; it’s your job to be prepared each time you contact your Advisor. Their recommendations are designed to help you navigate around pitfalls so make sure you’re ready to listen and learn. Since Advisors help you with specific questions, the advisor-advisee relationship is often short-to-medium term (depending on the complexity of the question). The advisor-advisee relationship is also more formal than a mentor-mentee’s and so often involves some sort of compensation. How do you find an Advisor? First, clearly define the problem or question you’re dealing with, figure out who has already worked through this type of issue and then ask them for straightforward help solving it.

Conclusion: find an Advisor when you have a specific need that requires specialized expertise – think Lawyer, Tax Accountant, M&A Advisor, etc.

“From my experience, the best advisors help in three ways: encourage you to look at the problem or opportunity from multiple angles; help you balance the tug of the short-term with important long-term priorities; and ask the tough questions you need to know to reach the best solution.” – Margo Georgiadis (CEO, Mattel, Ancestry.com)

What is a Coach?

A Coach is not (necessarily) a role model. This is because Coaches are people who are good at coaching; they might not have been the best in the field but they are excellent at helping others grow and achieve their goals. Coaches can assist your development in many areas (relationships, wellness, life, corporate strategy, public speaking, etc.) and often start by helping to clarify your goals, then focus on improving key behaviours and help you develop and strengthen strategies that support the success of your goals. When you engage the help of a Coach it’s often because you want their specific expertise which is – as a Coach – to deliver RESULTS. As follows, this is a formal relationship (think “contract”) and is a service you pay for. The relationship is often medium-term in length. Finding a good Coach can be a bit tricky since many identify as “Coaches” but aren’t actually qualified. Once you’ve identified the need for a Coach, do some research, ask for referrals and before hiring your Coach get references from their past clients (not from other coaches).

Conclusion: Hire a Coach if you want to pay someone to help you to be better, stronger, faster, etc. (like what a professional athlete does).

In Summary

Now that we have gone over the details, here’s a graphic to sum up the differences and overlap between a Mentor, Advisor and Coach:

Parting Advice

Actively working with a mentor, an advisor or a coach can have a significant and positive impact on your success and the success of your business or organization. At BSG, we love to work with leaders who are looking to up their own game or improve the performance of their business. We would be pleased to assist you in your quest for success and best practices in all aspects of your business and personal life. Give us a call or drop a quick email to initiate a discussion.

About the Authors

Claude Haw, P.Eng, ICD.D is President of Venture Coaches, a management consulting and investment firm, and Executive Leader of the Governance and Strategy unit of Business Sherpa Group. He enjoys working with motivated leaders who want to take their company or organization to the next level using global best practices for management, governance and strategy. More about Claude is found here.

Leanne Bell, BA, is the Marketing and Business Operations Specialist at Business Sherpa Group. She loves researching, learning about whatever comes her way, and maximizing social media for business engagement and connections.

Bibliography / Recommended Reads

Slayback, Zak. What’s the Difference Between a Mentor, an Advisor; and a Coach? zakslayback.com, published August 25, 2017.

Chopra, Vineet. 6 Things Every Mentor Should Do, Harvard Business Review, HBR.org, published March 29, 2017.

Nivi. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Advisors, Part 1, Venture Hacks, venturehacks.com, published January 31, 2008.

Carroll, Susan. 5 Reasons to Invest in Yourself as a Leader, www.linkedin.com, published August 25, 2017.

Hyatt, Michael. 3 Ways to Go Further, Faster, www.michaelhyatt.com, published October 3, 2017.

Archer, Jason. The Value of a Mentor, Medium, www.medium.com, published May 32, 2018.

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