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Do I need a Mentor or a Coach? What’s the difference?

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My first attempt at being a mentor was in 2007 and the truth is, I wasn’t very good. In fact, I was terrible, and it took me almost ten years before trying again.

It was during that ten-year hiatus that I had the privilege of finding my own mentor, although I didn’t know he was my mentor to start with, and neither did he. This gentle introduction to being mentored drove me to research what being a mentor really means and gain a better understanding of how to be a better mentee. With the investment of time, it can be such a valuable relationship.

In 2017, I became a mentor for Virgin Start Up, and in 2020, I was invited to become a mentor for London & Partners who run the Mayor Of London’s Growth Programmes. In May 2022, Start-Up Croydon invited me to be a mentor of mentors for a competition they are running with BOXPARK Croydon to uncover a local culinary MasterChef.

A quick search on Google will return several definitions and explanations of the word ‘mentor’. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a mentor is “an experienced person who advises and helps someone with less experience over a period of time“, but this definition isn’t too dissimilar to the work of a consultant or coach.

From my experience of being a mentor and a consultant, a fundamental difference is the pay, or rather the lack of it, as for me, mentors don’t get paid.

Consultants are paid to find and deliver solutions to specific questions or problems. Consultants expect you to follow their direction. After all, you are paying them to be an expert in their field.

Coaches are paid to work on specific goals. Think of a sports coach who helps you jump higher. You pay a coach to create a training plan and they expect you to follow it to achieve your goal.

Mentors advise and guide. They listen and challenge ideas and concepts. They use their experience to help guide the mentee in finding their own answers. We all have our bias, but mentors need to remain independent and unvested with no personal gain or loss from the success or failure of the mentee.

There should be no pay or reward for being a mentor and because of this, the relationship is different to the one you have with a consultant or coach. A mentor needs to create a sense of value for the mentee without being paid by them. And don’t be upset or take it personally when the mentee doesn’t follow your advice or guidance. Remember, the role is to challenge ideas and make them think, to find their own answers.

With no pay, a mentee that may not follow your guidance, and no upside from the success of your mentee, why would anyone become a mentor? That’s too big an answer for this post, so if you are interested to know, look out for my next post.

It wouldn’t be right to finish this without a big thank you to Saffron Saunders and Geoff Ranson of Start-Up Croydon for doing such an amazing job for local startups and inviting me in to play a small part.

Adam Bent
AM Strategic Consultancy.
07740 594886

Adam Bent, of AM Strategic Consultancy

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