One day, last week, Parchelle Tashi posed a question that she’d been thinking about.

“Do you know what the difference is between a consultant, coach and mentor?”

She then sent me the video that had originally gotten her thinking about it.

If the embed doesn’t work for you, go here.

In this video, Cameron Herold lays out what he believes to be the definition of the terms consultant, coach and mentor. I’d encourage you to watch the video as it’s only 3 minutes and 46 seconds long and it will give you good context for this post.

In short, I wholeheartedly disagree with him.

I don’t know Mr. Herold. Judging from his background growing 1-800-GOT-JUNK from $2m to $106m, I’m confident that he’s very smart and has a lot to offer. This is not an attack on him, but I think his video provides an excellent point of contrast to properly define what these terms mean because I think he totally misuses each term. It’s important that you understand these terms so that you can make the best decision about what you need, and what you offer.

Again, I recommend watching the video so that how I define the terms are contrasted against how he does it.

Respecting Word Origins

I’m endlessly fascinated by words and language.

I love how words can change over time to mean something different from what they originally intended.

Also, I hate how words can change over time to mean something different from what they originally intended.

For example…

My impression of a 7th grader giving a presentation in front of the class…

“Webster’s Dictionary defines consult as…”


[ verb kuhn-suhlt; noun kon-suhlt, kuhn-suhlt ]

verb (used with object)

  1. to seek advice or information from; ask guidance from: Consult your lawyer before signing the contract.
  2. to refer to for information: Consult your dictionary for the spelling of the word.

Nowhere in this definition is there ANY mention of DOING the work. Interesting, isn’t it? So, why do we all wrongly assume, as Cameron Herold does in his video, that a Consultant is someone you pay to do the work?

The short answer is that big companies hijacked and redefined the word.

As I prepared to graduate from my MBA, many people told me that I might enjoy consulting. So, I looked into Deloitte, Accenture, and Ernst & Young. Years later, I now know that these are the companies that ruined the word consulting.

These companies DO all sorts of things beyond giving advice, information, and guidance. By throwing their weight behind the word “consulting,” they have forever altered what the word means to the general consumer. Now, consultants everywhere are expected to step in and do the work.

While that is what consulting has come to mean, it’s not what it is supposed to mean. There are other terms for this which we’ll cover later.

Consultants, by definition, are paid to come in and provide advice and information…that’s it!

Teach how to fish.

landscape photo of man fishing on river near mountain alps

What is a Coach?

In his video, Cameron Herold suggests that “coaching” is exclusively the domain of the Socratic method. According to Herold…

“The coach is never supposed to give you a system, the coach is not supposed to give you a tool, the coach is not supposed to tell you what to do, they’re not supposed to give you advice, they’re not supposed to do work for you.”

Cameron Herold

In that entire string of assertions, there is precisely one true statement there: they’re not supposed to do work for you.

Let’s play a game…

black Android smartphone showing google site on white surface
  • Open a new browser tab and go to Google.
  • Search the following: coach -bag
  • This should yield a search for the word coach but removing Coach handbags from the results.
  • Now go to the images tab.

What images do you see for the word coach?

Sports coaches, right?

Think about every coach you have EVER seen at the sideline of ANY sporting event—football, basketball, tennis, boxing. Can you imagine what coaching would look like if those individuals did nothing more than ask questions?

Imagine one of the boxers facing Mike Tyson in his prime. After surviving the 1st round by absorbing 3 minutes of punishment from one of the most dangerous men on the planet in a boxing ring, the coach just says, “how do YOU think you can make it out of here alive?”

greyscale photography of a boxer inside reing

Phil Jackson, one of the most successful basketball coaches in the history of the NBA, among his many accolades, is well-known for popularizing The Triangle Offense originally conceived by Sam Barry. In this SYSTEM, players learn exactly how to move around the court in order to create offensive opportunities. At no point in the construction of this system, did he sit the team down and ask them “hey guys, how do you think we could structure the offense to ensure more open looks at the basket?” While I’m sure he asked them questions to get them to understand it better, and to refine it, he had to explain the new system to them first. In the end, it produced a meager 11 championships.

Coaching, is an active process. It requires that players are accountable to the coach. It requires that the coach provides guidance, structure, and systems in service of each player’s growth.

Yes, great coaches ask a lot questions, but it’s not the only tool in their bag.

But, even if there were not a clear precedent of coaches in sports, if we go by the textbook definition of a coach:


[ kohch ]

verb (used with object)

  1. to give instruction or advice to in the capacity of a coach; instruct:

Do you get paid or nah?

I practice what I call Open Mentorship. Where as mentorship is often a formalized process where in there is a mentor and a mentee who come to a clear agreement about the term and scope of the relationship, I just mentor people in my world. It’s informal, it’s unspoken…I just give everything I’ve got to the people in my world. I never claim anyone as my mentee, but there are plenty who call me their mentor. It’s always an honor and a privilege.

I do not believe in the concept of “paid mentorship.” It’s like paid volunteerism…it’s an oxymoron.

Mentorship is the act of giving back without the expectation of compensation. It is an act of generosity. It’s not business…it’s personal. People who mentor have no obligation to be there, but they choose to anyway.

woman writing on table

This lack of compensation is precisely what sets mentorship apart and is one of the reasons it is so valuable and effective.

Cameron asserts that a mentor is someone who has been in the role before. This may be the one point where Cameron and I agree. A mentor should be someone who can draw on their personal experience to offer guidance. Knowing that the person giving you advice has been there before, in your exact situation, lends credibility to their advice.

The fact that this more experienced person is generously willing to set aside their time and offer their expertise in service of another, creates a social debt which obliges the mentee, at a minimum, to respect the mentor’s sacrifice for their benefit.

Cameron asserts that mentoring is not the place for asking questions because, remember, that’s a coach’s job. This does not make any sense at all and is, in fact, completely backwards.

Here’s why…

Since mentorship is voluntary and uncompensated, it is absolutely the most effective place for questions to be asked. Think about it…

  • When a mentor asks a mentee a question, does it not immediately occur to the mentee that the the mentor already knows the answer?
  • Are they not fully aware that the question is in service of their growth?
  • Because the mentor is there voluntarily and is not being compensated, would the mentee have ANY serious grounds to feign impatience at the use of the Socratic method like they would with a coach or consultant who is being PAID to solve a problem?

A mentor is the person who is in the single most defensible position to ask questions as the primary method for helping the other person grow. They’ve been there before and now they’re here, for free.

Spotting the differences

You’ve probably noticed that–by definition–consultants, coaches, and mentors all give advice and none of them do the work. Naturally, you have some questions:

  • Wait, hold on…what’s the difference between a consultant and a coach?
  • Who does the work?

I will get to who does the work in a moment. But first…

Consultants vs Coaches

The difference between a coach and consultant comes down to two things:

  1. Consultants work on problems. Coaches work on people.
  2. Clients are not accountable to consultants, but they are accountable to coaches.

Consultants are hired brains. They come in, they analyze, they give advice, and they leave. A consultant will give you advice on how to fix a problem, whether the problem is a system, process, or person. Their job is to solve problems.

However, whether or not you do the work required, it’s not really a consultant’s concern. Sure, it’s great if they care enough to make it their concern, but the client isn’t hiring a consultant to help them grow as a person, they’re hiring them to solve a business problem.

Coaches are also hired brains, but they also are being hired precisely to make a difference through people. As my friend Renee Pollins said:

“a coach is someone who causes a mindset shifts with you, in partnership, so that you can grow and accomplish more of what you want to.”

Your coach is there to hold you accountable. So, whether or not you do the work, is within the scope of their job. It is actually their job to help you grow.

But there’s one question remaining…

Who does the work?

If consultants don’t do the work, and coaches don’t, and mentors don’t…who do you call when you need work done?

You call specialists, and they have lots of different names.

  • Copywriter
  • SEO
  • HVAC Technician
  • Data Analyst
  • Accountant
  • Videographer
  • Brand Strategist

We don’t need a catch-all term for this because each of these professionals has a title that is centered on their unique specialty making it very easy for businesses to find what they need.

What do you need and what are you?

If after all of this, you still don’t know what you need or what you are, I made you this nifty table.

What did I miss? What did I get wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Cameron Herold, if you’re reading this, no disrespect intended…I would honestly love to hear your thoughts.

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