Success in life is rarely achieved alone.
Whilst grit, hard work and dedication will get us a long way, to be truly successful we also need to know when to ask for help.
And help can come in many forms. From many different sources.
When you actually stop and think about who you have to thank for your successes in life, the list is usually very long – which is perhaps why Oscar speeches never finish on time.
However, when you study highly successful people in just about any field, one thing that many of them have in common is that they attribute their success, at least in part, to the help of a teacher, a mentor or a coach.
These are three roles that often get confused and there is definitely some overlap. So let’s start by defining each one.
What is a teacher?
A teacher’s role is to demonstrate and educate. They are generally coming from a position of ‘expert’ in their particular field and their job is to impart knowledge on to their students.
We tend to associate teachers with classroom environments such as schools and universities.
For some Hollywood inspiration, think Robin Williams (Dead Poets Society) or Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Minds). These are romantic portrayals of classroom teachers who were able to both inspire and educate their students.
In our own lives, I’m sure that we have all experienced both good and bad teachers along our journeys.
When I think back to my school days, there were plenty of bad teachers, but there were a select few who made a lasting impact.
Maybe not the ‘stand on my desk and recite Latin poetry’ type of impact, but a significant impact nonetheless.
New ways of teaching
The role of a teacher is not restricted to traditional educational institutions. And your opportunity to be taught new skills doesn’t end when you leave school. In many ways, that’s just the beginning.
In fact, the education industry is undergoing a bit of a revolution at the moment.
On the one hand, you still have the traditional institutions such as schools and universities, that continue to provide a more classical form of education.
Apart from some modernisation of the curriculum and the adoption of new technologies, the basic system of teaching in schools and universities has not really changed a great deal in the past hundred years.
However, where we are seeing huge innovation is in the area of peer-to-peer education, largely facilitated by the internet.
Anyone who has mastered a skill, either through education or experience, is now able to offer themselves as a teacher via these online platforms. And there are courses tailored to everyone’s circumstances, objectives and budget.
And the punters are lapping it up. The global E-Learning industry is expected to reach $325 billion by 2025 according to a Research and Markets report.
With such ease of access and such a broad range of subjects to choose from, it’s very easy to continue furthering your education as an ongoing process throughout life.
So if you have a new skill you want to learn, it’s never been easier to find yourself a potential teacher.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who is more experienced than yourself (in a particular area) and who has already trodden the path you are now treading. They can provide support, guidance and inspiration.
Ideally, it is someone who has been successful in this area and you are therefore able to model their success. In many cases, they can also help provide connections and contacts.
Essentially it’s someone who can give you a leg up.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”John Crosby
For the Star Wars fans, think of it the relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker.
And here are some other famous ‘real-life’ examples of mentors.
- Boris Becker is a mentor to Novak Djokovic
- Steve Jobs was a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg
- Warren Buffet mentored Bill Gates
- Mahatma Gandhi mentored Nelson Mandela
- Socrates was a mentor to Plato
Where to find a mentor
Your chosen career is an obvious area of your life where you could benefit from having a mentor. Perhaps someone in your organisation or your industry. Or if you are an entrepreneur, look for someone who has built a business similar to yours.
You can also look to find mentors in other areas of life, such as your parenting journey.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be an official mentor relationship. But try to identify older, more experienced people who you admire and then make a point of spending time with them.
While much of our learning comes from our own experiences and from making our own mistakes, we can also learn a lot from the experience (and mistakes) of others.
That’s how the human race continues to improve, we benefit from the knowledge of those who have gone before us.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”Isaac Newton
What is a coach?
A coach is someone who helps others to unlock and develop their own potential so they can improve their results and achieve greater success.
When we think of the term ‘coach’, it’s most often associated with the sporting field.
Famous examples of sports coaches include John Wooden (Basketball), Alex Ferguson (Soccer), Graham Henry (Rugby) and Kevin Sheedy (Australian Rules).
But coaches are not restricted to the sporting industry, they also have a role to play in other areas of life.
Many successful business people employ the services of a coach to help them improve their performance.
Once again, we can also turn to Hollywood for inspiration. Perhaps the most famous example of a celebrity coach is Tony Robbins. He counts Bill Clinton, Serena Williams and Hugh Jackman amongst his high profile clients. But he has also built a whole industry around life coaching for the masses.
There are also coaches who specialise in specific niches such as careers, relationships, dating, weight-loss, fitness and health.
Whichever area of your life you are looking to improve, there is potentially a coach available who can help you achieve better results than you would by yourself.
My running coach
As a personal example, I have decided to run a marathon this year.
This will be my first and probably the only marathon I ever run, so I want to get a good result and hopefully avoid killing myself in the process.
A friend of mine, who is an experienced marathon runner, suggested I speak to his running coach. So I gave him a call and completed a couple of coaching sessions.
Like me, you may have thought running a marathon was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating… over and over and over.
But like many things, the more you get into it, the more you realise some of the intricacies involved.
My coach started by videoing my running style so that I could observe myself from different angles. I think there’s probably a metaphor in that.
Anyway, this helped me identify some weaknesses in my technique that I would not have otherwise noticed. It turns out I was overextending with my stride, particularly on the right foot, which explains why I was getting Achilles soreness.
We, therefore, made some corrections to my technique, which has addressed the issue and potentially avoided a more serious injury down the track.
My coach also helped me set some goals and build a customised training program to meet my objectives.
And most importantly, he is keeping me accountable, by checking in on my progress.
A good coach will do that. They provide an external accountability partner to make sure you do what you say you are going to do.
This is very useful, particularly for individual pursuits like running, entrepreneurship and any form of personal development.
What’s different about coaching?
There’s an important distinction with coaching. Whereas a teacher will teach you how to do something and a mentor will tell you how they did it, a coach’s role is different.
A good coach won’t necessarily tell you how to do something, their role is to guide you to find your own way. They can also help you see things from a different angle.
“A coach can give you perspective – the one thing that people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really helps.”Eric Schmidt
A good coach knows how to ask the right questions, help you set smart goals for yourself and then keep you accountable for achieving these goals. But you are always the one who has to do the work.
My running coach can’t do all the training miles for me, I need to do that. And he definitely won’t be able to help me on the day. But he should have helped me achieve better results by guiding me to focus on the right things and stretching me to do better than I would have on my own.
When to use a teacher, a mentor and a coach.
Successful people often use all three of these roles to help them achieve their results. And you are likely to benefit from having all three in your life as well.
Over a lifetime you will potentially have many teachers, mentors and coaches and it’s important to understand when you need to employ the services of each one.
The best way I could summarise it is as follows.
- If you want to learn a new skill or gain knowledge on a specific subject, use a teacher.
- If you want to model someone who has had success in a particular field and to benefit from their experience and contacts, find yourself a mentor.
- And if you want to supercharge your results and improve your performance in a specific area of life, then get yourself a coach.
Footnote – the role of a dad
The focus of this article has been on personal development and how we can USE teachers, mentors and coaches to be more successful in our lives.
However, it’s also important to realise that as dads we need to BE all three of these roles (and much more) to our children.
If we want to raise successful children and to be the best dads we can possibly be, then we need to know WHEN and HOW to be a teacher, a mentor and coach.