Cuando el estudiante está preparado, el maestro aparece

¿Conoces la diferencia entre un profesor, un mentor y un coach? ¿Cómo se inicia un proceso de mentoring? Interesantes claves las que aporta este artículo de uno de los blogs del Wall Street Journal.


Lots of entrepreneurs believe they want a mentor. In fact, they’re actually asking for a teacher or a coach. A mentor relationship is a two-way street. To make it work, you need to bring something to the party.

A Question from the Audience. Recently I got a question that I had never heard before: “How do I get you, or someone like you to become my mentor?” It made me pause as I realized that I’ve never thought much about the mentors I had, how I got them or the difference between mentors, coaches and teachers.

Teachers. What I do today is teach at Stanford and Berkeley. At worst I deliver knowledge to them. At best, I try to help my students to discover and acquire knowledgethemselves. I try to engage them to see the startup world as part of a larger pattern; to understand there’s a lifecycle of how companies are born, grow and die. And finally, I have them experience all of this first hand by teaching them theory side-by-side with immersive hands-on using customer development to find a business model.

Outside the classroom, the stream of coffees, lunches and phone calls I have with current and past students are also a form of teaching. Most of the time, students approach me with some version of the following: “Here’s the problem I have. Can you help me?” Usually, I’ll give a direct answer, but sometimes my answer is a question.

In both cases, inside or outside the classroom, I consider those activities as teaching. At least for me, mentorship is something quite different.

Coaches. Coaches are not the same as mentors. At different times in my career I’ve hired coaches to improve specific skills — speaking, negotiating, presentations, etc. Today there are business coaches that help executives get better at specific tasks — interpersonal skills, job transitions, etc. Coaches are hired and paid for, and have a specific task to accomplish.

Mentors. As an entrepreneur in my 20s and 30s, I was lucky to have four extraordinary mentors, each brilliant in his own field and each a decade or two older than me. Ben Wegbreit taught me how to think, Gordon Bell taught me what to think about, Rob Van Naarden taught me how to think about customers and Allen Michels showed me how to turn thinking into direct, immediate and outrageous action.

At this time in my life, I was the world’s biggest pain in the butt, and lessons needed to be communicated with a baseball bat. Yet each one of these mentors not only put up with me, but also engaged me in a dialogue of continual learning. Unlike coaching, there was no specific agenda or goal, but they saw I was open to learning and they cared about me and my long-term development.

I’m not sure it was a conscious effort on their part (I know it wasn’t on mine), but it continued for years, and in some cases (with Ben as my partner) for decades. What is interesting in hindsight is that although the relationship continued for a long time, neither of us explicitly acknowledged it.

Now I realize that what made these relationships a mentorship is this: I was giving as good as I was getting. While I was learning from them — and their years of experience and expertise — what I was giving back to them was equally important. I was bringing fresh insights to their data. It wasn’t that I was just more up-to-date on the current technology, markets or trends, it was that I was able to recognize patterns and bring new perspectives to what these very smart people already knew. In hindsight, mentorship is a synergistic relationship.

Finding a Mentor. Being mentored is a two-way relationship — it’s a back-and-forth dialogue — it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching or coaching.

You need to be asking: What can we learn together? How much are you going to bring to the relationship? If it’s not much, than what you really want/need is a teacher, not a mentor. If it’s a specific goal or skill you want to achieve, hire a coach, but if you’re prepared to give as good as you get, then look for a mentor.

But never ask. Offer to give.

The ending of a mentor/mentee relationship is bittersweet. Over time the student becomes the teacher, and this phase of the relationship ends.

• Teachers, coaches and mentors are each something different.
• If you want to learn a specific subject find a teacher.
• If you want to hone specific skills or reach an exact goal, hire a coach.

If you want to get smarter and better over your career find someone who cares about you enough to be a mentor.