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Last month I asked my twitter community to weigh in on a discussion I was having with myself:

“What is the difference between a coach and a mentor?”

I’ve been called both - I’ve also been a consultant, a professional trainer and a volunteer teacher. While I felt I could clearly define the difference between coaching and consulting/teaching/training I wasn’t so sure I was on the same page with my audience when it came to the difference between a mentor and a coach.

No wonder - the answers from the audience were very diverse. I’m not sure a single answer exists.

In fact, I started a Facebook page called Energy Synergy Harmony – you’ll find it at Facebook pages Pure Synchrony which is the name of my business – to continue this discussion and to facilitate other discussions with my audience

From my friend (and mentor by MY definition) John David Mann

“A mentor cares and gives the light of experience - a coach holds toes to the fire.”

From my friend and fellow thought leader, Chris Ortiz

“Difference is love. We coach for money or duty. We mentor because of the relationship.”

Some comments suggested that coaches offer inspiration – most agreed that a large part of mentoring is to inspire.

Now there were comments from people who felt they had “virtual mentors” – people they strove to emulate without personal contact or engagement. In my mind I think of those people as role models – I may strive to model them in some way but they are not mentoring me.

What do I think?

I think that the difference IS the emotional engagement – coaching can happen even with the unwilling. You can in fact, coach someone on being coachable. You can force someone to participate in “disciplinary coaching”. It won’t always be successful (as my good friend David Hilyard commented to me If the want” isn’t strong enough it can’t happen. “If the bird doesn’t want to fly you have a chicken.” I’m STILL laughing at that one) but it is still a coaching relationship.

Mentoring however is a mutually permissive relationship that requires both parties to engage.

I can BE a coach whether or not I have clients. I can only BE a mentor if I have a protégée who is engaged with me in being mentored.

The posts took me back to a conversation with a client many years ago – we were meeting in a coffee shop and the old Peter Paul and Mary tune Puff the Magic Dragon came on. My client said to me “I think that is what I’ve really been lacking – a Puff”

Now no chuckles from those of you who have your own theories about the topic of that song – what he meant was he had never had someone who took him under their wing – literally OR figuratively and showed him the ropes, took him on adventures, encouraged him to have courage, to dare to venture away from Cherry Lane and go experience the world.

He had never had a mentor.

That song and that memory informed some of my personal definitions of what it means to be a mentor.

It was a mutually giving relationship – Jackie brought strings and sealing wax and Puff introduced him to kings and princes. It was a mutually receiving relationship as well. But most telling was what happened when Jackie outgrew his need for his mentor – Puff slipped into his cave and was seen no more. It required the participation and commitment of both parties.

So here are my thoughts:

A teacher shares knowledge – anyone can learn even against their will.

A trainer works on developing skills – anyone can develop if they have the aptitude.

A consultant has or finds answers and solutions – anyone can benefit if they are willing to do the work.

A coach provokes you to find YOUR OWN answers and solutions, helps you recognize and remove barriers and keeps you focused and moving forward – anyone can grow if they are internally motivated enough.

Any of these people can be hired, engaged, retained, you name it.

A mentor may do any and all of the above but ultimately they share of themselves, not only their experience but their experiences, not only of their knowledge but their wisdom. Only those who are willing to share at that level can be true mentors and only those who are willing to share equally in the emotional commitment can be a protégé.

As to inspiration – anyone can inspire – I’ve been inspired by teachers, trainers, consultants and coaches.

I’ve been inspired by people I don’t know (yet) In fact, it was Chris Brogan who inspired me today to just get on with it and record this video! Thanks Chris!

I must say that I am most inspired by my mentors – because I am inspired not only by what they say but by who they are.

The mentors I have in my life now keep me inspired daily – John David Mann who inspires me to be a little more eloquent every time I sit down to write, Scott Ginsberg who inspires me to be a little less judgmental of what is worth writing, Gill Wagner who inspires me to recognize my own talent, Bob Burg who inspires me to step up to my future with grace and my unwitting (and probably unwilling) mentor, David Meyer, who inspires me to embrace my creativity and to laugh at myself.

Teachers, trainers, consultants and coaches provide a lot of value

But to someone who is ready to be a protégé a mentor is priceless

And to someone who is ready to be a mentor – a protégé is absolutely essential

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