When determining the difference between a coach, mentor, and consultant, it is necessary to look at specific roles and functions. First, we must look at the focus or concentration – what is the specific focus of the person? Second, we should look at the type of agenda or role the person has. Third, look at how the relationship is chosen and or cultivated. Fourth, how does the person garner influence? Fifth, what is the expected return for the services of the person? Finally, we must determine the scope of the person’s work.
Coaches appear in various forms, such as professional, life, relationship, and sports team coaches. All coach types share the same criteria. The focus of the coach is in specific performance – for example, an organizational coach is usually responsible for increasing or improving performance in a given area. The agenda for a coach, then, is usually fairly specific – improve batting average, increase sales, etc. A coach usually arrives in the relationship selected by someone other than the “coachee” – in other words, the relationship is not self-selected. Coaches also influence through their position, such as in the sports world. But what is the expected return for a coach? As we’ve already discussed, a coach is looking for performance and possibly teamwork. Finally, a coach’s scope is usually task-related.
Mentors vary slightly from the coach. A mentor’s focus, unlike a coach, is typically on the individual and not on a specific task or performance. A mentor also takes a more general role to the individual, that is, there is usually a less-specific agenda. Many mentor relationships are self-selected – keep in mind that a coach is usually assigned to a person or a team, whereas mentor relationships usually spring from mutual interests, work styles, and histories. A mentor’s influence usually comes from the perceived value of the relationship as opposed to position. The person choosing the mentor also chooses to take the role of “mentee” because of the expected return. So what is the expected return of a mentor? Many times the return could be as simple as affirmation or learning. Simply having a mentor will not guarantee that a person can advance in an organization and may not even be recognized as an “official” relationship, like a coach. The mentor’s scope is more than likely a general one – for example, if a person chooses a mentor in his or her profession, the mentor will likely cover many facets of that profession, including knowledge, preparation, networking, and technical function.
A consultant may take the form of mentors and coaches, but the primary difference between a consultant and coaches and mentors is that a consultant is usually paid for the specific task at hand. The focus of a consultant is usually not a specific performance or individual but a complete process or concept, such as customer service. The consultant works on a specific agenda, as determined by the organization and the consultant. The relationship between consultant and client is usually self-selected by the client and based on cost, word of mouth, or area of expertise. On the other hand, the consultant can influence the client because of the perceived value he or she presents, as well as based on the record of past accomplishment. Because a consultant relationship is usually paid, the expected return typically has a link to a monetary value, such as higher efficiency or monetary savings. Also, whereas coaches and mentors tend to be general or task related in scope, a consultant’s scope is defined by the consultant and the organization or client.
There are obviously subtle similarities between coaches, mentors, and consultants. But when you look at the specific criteria of the relationship, you can see that the differences should keep us from interchanging terms.