Coach, Consultant and Mentor – What’s the difference?

By · January 11, 2009 · Filed in Information

So what is the difference?

The terms mentor, coach and consultant are often confused with each other.  Each plays a role in personal development, but the way each professional performs his or her responsibilities is actually quite different.

In the world of business and self improvement the ability to maximize potential can be the difference between success and failure.  Consequently, more and more corporations and individuals are turning to professionals for advice and assistance.  Mentors, coaches and consultants are regularly sought to provide the expertise and insight necessary for personal growth and production.  All three of these experts play important roles, but as you will see, each uses a varied approach to produce results.  Here I will take a look at the key differences between the three professionals, including examples of how they do their jobs.

Consultant

A consultant is an expert or professional, in a specific field, who provides specialized advice in particular areas of expertise.  These individuals usually work for a consulting firm, but can work independently as well.  Organizations use consultants to train employees in a given field that falls under the consultant’s expertise.  A technology consultant, for example, may be brought in when an organization or company switches to a new computer system.  The responsibility of the consultant is to first, train individuals on how to use the system, and second, to show employees how this system can be used to increase productivity.

Management often views the cost of hiring a consultant a viable and certainly justifiable expense.  A $50,000 dollar computer system is a waste of money if employees have no idea how to maximize its benefits. Likewise, consultants in other areas such as management, human resources and marketing are considered valuable for the expertise they provide.  In the long run, companies feel that the money spent for tapping the brains of these professionals will be more than offset by the revenue which proper training will generate.

Mentor

A mentor works with another individual, usually called a protégé, developing an almost family-like interest in their happiness and success.  Mentors are not appointed to their position, but rather selected by their protégés for their perceived value.  They have no personal agenda and are involved only in those areas of life which the understudy selects.  Their only reward is the affirmation they receive from the protégé and the learning experience they gain from the task.

So what do they do exactly?  Well, that varies depending on the individual and the situation.  Mentors act as facilitators.  They focus on the individual, their career and provide support and advice that will allow their protégé to grow.  They do not drive clients to perform in a certain manner.  Their focus is individual fulfillment from every situation.  They are a backboard, someone to lean on and consult when facing tough decisions.  The aim of the advice they provide is to ensure long-term development, rather than specific duty-related objectives.  Mentors act as a big brother or sister, someone the protégé trusts unconditionally for their wisdom and compassion.

In the situation above, while the consultant was training individuals to use the computer system, a mentor would have a different role.  Chosen by one of the employees to facilitate growth, a mentor would also assist in the training process, but his focus would center on the particular individual and not the task.  How can this new information prepare you for what lies ahead, and how can I help you to utilize this new information for your long-term development?  These are the questions a mentor would ask, with only the complete well-being of their protégé in mind.

Coach

A coach also works with individuals, but their role is not the same.  Coaches focus on individual performance on a given task, and while increased performance may lead to individual fulfillment, their primary agenda is the task itself.  Coaches are often appointed to work with individuals to help them maneuver through a difficult objective, and provide advice and assistance related to that objective.  They are compensated for their investment by a rise in performance and an increase in team work, which results from individuals mastering certain skills.

Think of a football coach.  His job is to develop strategy, and to help the men beneath him master skills within his system.  All of this work is centered on a particular objective:  Win the game!  If he is successful, his reward is not just his own personal fulfillment, but a renewed sense of teamwork and camaraderie among his players.  A life coach is not much different.  They help individuals succeed within a given task, while strategically assessing their performance and providing useful feedback.

In our “new computer system” scenario, a coach would focus primarily on helping individuals to become proficient at the task itself.  He would create a plan—a strategy— to help his client develop and sharpen specific skills related to this task, and prepare him adequately for the challenges and performance expectations associated with it.  Mastery of this skill will provide value for both the client and the organization, allowing both to confidently move forward toward new challenges and greater success.

All three—mentors, coaches and consultants—play an important role in individual and group development.  The services they provide are invaluable.  Learning to get the most out of what you already have is a cost-effective approach for maximizing productivity and fostering teamwork.  It is no small wonder that their services are so frequently requested, and their popularity is soaring.

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