Do you really need a mentor?

You’ve been moving toward fulfilling your dream of starting a business or taking your existing business to the next level.  Or maybe you’re feeling stuck and you just want to take a step in the right direction.  You conclude that you need a mentor, and you know just the person to ask. But hold up! Do you really need a mentor? 

At some point, or should I say at various points in your life journey you’ll realize the need for a mentor, a counselor, or a coach.  Look at the Venn diagram below and you’ll see that while the three have much in common, they are specific in their orientation.  So, here’s a quick overview to help you think through which of them you really need and when.


Accountability, Responsibility, Expertise (ARE): No mentoring, counseling or coaching relationship will be successful without ARE. 

Accountability for outcomes rests with both mentor and mentee, counselor and counselee, coach and coachee. All parties agree to the what, when, and how of the relationship and make themselves accountable to each other for that process.

The responsibility for taking action on what comes out of the mentoring, counseling, or coaching relationship rests solely with the person on the receiving end.  It’s important that you have the ability to respond appropriately time, resource, or otherwise to the agreed upon plan and process.  It may very well be that you need to make preparation in areas of your life in order to have either of these relationships.

Knowledge, experience and expertise is what makes a mentor able to mentor, a counselor able to counsel, and a coach able to coach.  For the counselor, among other things, it requires knowledge of how issues affect people and how to help them navigate, manage, and overcome them.  For the coach it requires knowledge and experience in bringing out or strengthening people’s talents, skills, gifts, and executing on plans to use them.  For the mentor it requires the ability to take a comprehensive view of all areas of the individual’s life and to teach through modeling, coaching, and sometimes counseling.

What most call mentoring today is more akin to coaching or advice.

Mentoring is Life-Oriented; it’s broad, collaborative, and comprehensive.  What most call mentoring today is more akin to coaching or advice.  Think of Mr. Miyagi and Obi-Wan Kenobi as character examples and note the time and commitment that make up a successful mentoring relationship.

Counseling is Issue-Oriented; it’s specific, individualized, and focused.  Marriage, grief, career, and emotional issues are just a few types of counseling.  In some cases counseling positions individuals to be more successful in mentoring or coaching relationships. It’s also possible for a coach or mentor to identify or recommend professional counseling of some sort to increase the likelihood of success.  Think of Deanna Troi as a character example and note that counselors need to examine and analyze the thinking around specific issues and other issues that may connect to them.

Coaching is Talent or Skills-Oriented; it’s based on the assumption that with the right support, the coachee has the capacity and capability to develop and execute a desired plan of action.  Leadership, life, career, and business are just a few types of coaching.  The coach helps to strengthen and/or focus the coachees’ skills and talents to execute a plan.   Think of Yoda as a character example and note how coaches don’t do the work but, rather, help individuals to realize how they can.

So, as you continue about the business of business and life consider which relationship fits for where you are now and remember “when the student is ready the teacher appears.”