Some roles I take on - and what they are

· January 27, 2017

The other day I heard someone distinguish between a few roles that I take on from time to time. I’ve never made the differentiations between those roles clear to myself, and as a consequence, I end up doing them all at the same time in my consulting.

This can sometimes be confusing for me and my clients, and it makes me also ineffective in the role I’m trying - or is expected to play. I actually wrote about this in a post a few years ago - without really knowing what kind of problem I was addressing.

In this post, I want to share a few thoughts on these different roles and hopefully shed some light on their distinctions.

Without saying each of the following headings could easily fill books. I’m just jotting down my current understanding of the concepts here, which helps me clarify them for myself. If you find it useful, it would make me very happy.


Yoda the mentor - Luke the mentee

A mentor is someone who has more experience and knowledge about a certain area than the mentee.

Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.


The mentee seeks the advice of the mentor, who provides guidance and wisdom. However, it’s up to the mentee to decide if and how to apply the advice in their current context.


A teacher instructing a student

An instructor is all about teaching and instructing someone on how to do things. There’s a very clear difference in levels here, and the focus is more narrow; it’s solely about teaching a specific topic or skill.

If the student has questions, the instructor should (most often) have the answers. That’s why they are the instructor.


Leadership is a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual or organization to “lead” or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations.


A leader points to the goal for the people they lead. There’s a clear division of roles here; the leader leads, and others follow. There are many different leadership styles, but one interesting aspect is how much of the “how” a leader leaves up to the followers.


A coach is on the same level as the focus person. They have no formal authority over the focus person and offer advice and consultancy in the question at hand.

The coach doesn’t claim to have more or deeper knowledge in the area being explored. It’s more about mutual exploration, where both parties learn and discover together. Often, the coach asks questions to facilitate discovery and learning.

Two young friends crossing the scary river


When I started to think about this post, I thought that I would end up with a line or diagram depicting the different roles from right to left. I hoped that my clients could help me to pinpoint the type of role they wanted more or less of.

Now that I read the descriptions above, I realize that these are roles that I take on more or less in the different relationships we are in. The trick, of course, is to know when to be what and when to switch. Going in with a coaching mindset suits me best; it’s a humble and curious approach to discovery and helping others improve while learning.

This was useful for me to write down - I hope you found it a bit interesting too.

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