Learning, Innovation & Tech

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Guest Post: The Difference between a Mentor and Role-Model

CJ Westerberg, July 16, 2013 8:56 PM

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(Editor's Note:  I met Karim Abouelnaga at the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Summit and was impressed by his mission, his drive and his crazy circuitous route toward entrepreneurship and desire to making a difference. We got into a few conversations and I am a big believer in the one-to-one relationship.

From these convos, Karim wrote a guest post for The Daily Riff.  He is in the trenches with mentorship and role-modeling.  Hope we learn from his journey.

Karim's org is Practice Makes Perfect which isn't your Dad's summer school.  Here's the premise via PMP's website: "Through a unique multi-relational approach, PMP pairs academically struggling elementary and middle school students with older, higher achieving mentor peers from the same inner-city neighborhoods, all under the supervision of trained college interns for a six-week, full-day academic experience."    -C.J. Westerberg)

" . . a good mentor takes the time to understand what you would like to do and they make an investment in leveraging their time and resources to helping you achieve your goal."
-Karim Abouelnaga, founder, PMP

Mentors vs. Role Models
by Karim Abouelnaga
This year, I was the first one in my family to graduate from college.
What was immediately clear to me is that even though I was the first one in my family to graduate, I didn't do it on my own. In fact, I owe a lot of it to the nonprofits, family, friends, and the mentors that invested in my journey and helped make sure that I didn't stray off the right path. More importantly, I found role models that I have and will continue to strive to be like.

Oddly enough, I realized that people have interchangeably used the words role model and mentor. Though they can easily be confused, there is an important difference between them - one that is often overlooked. Growing up, I was the product of mentoring organizations like New York Needs You, and more recently, I co-founded an organization that marries mentorship and intensive academic enrichment. In my personal experience, there are three large differences:

1. Mentors are individuals that can help you with the "operational" aspects of life and role models are more there to help set the "aspirational" aspects.

In many instances, a mentor is someone who has "signed up" to help you out, whether it is formally or through their own interest in you. They do not necessarily share a career you are interested in or a life path that you would like to follow. However, a good mentor takes the time to understand what you would like to do and they make an investment in leveraging their time and resources to helping you achieve your goal. Most usually, mentors act out of reciprocation - someone was there to provide them with guidance growing up and they would like to give forward the support or opportunity they had.

"The most successful people that I have crossed paths
 have a distribution of both (role-model and mentor)

2. Mentoring requires a relationship, one that is often mutually beneficial, whereas with role models that isn't necessarily the case.

When someone becomes a mentor or meets with you frequently enough to provide you with support, they are also usually learning in the process. The time spent together drives the learning that takes place.

Also, role models can be individuals you never meet your entire life. The thing that drives the role model relationship is the desire to accomplish or to be like the individual being looked up to for replication.

3. Mentors are usually assigned or form relationships that are built or happen over time
but role models are most often chosen.

What makes the two relationships really different is that with a mentor, both parties have an understanding that the relationship exists or is being built.

That is not the case with role models. In other words, you can identify a role model and they may not ever even know you exist. Since role models don't have to know "you", they can also be individuals who are no longer alive. For example, you can aspire to be like Tom Sawyer or John F. Kennedy. They are individuals that share qualities and characteristics which you would like to emulate.

The most successful people that I have crossed paths have a distribution of both.

As a matter of fact, I believe it is safe to say that we need both. It is also important to note that a mentor can also be a role model or someone you aspire to be like, but that does not necessarily have to be the case. Additionally, a role model can also be a mentor but they do not necessarily have to be that same person or ideal.

I hope that this piece helps shed light on some of the differences for you so that you may continue to develop happy and healthy relationships that will aid you in your personal and professional development.

  • Sarah Johnes

    Mentors are an important part of personal and professional development.
    Role model is what I would feel to think one sees in an others approach to personal being may reflect an idea one may wish to borrow from to project an approach to interact with others… and may be a mentor, also of consequence one finds of positive consequence.

  • Kate

    Hi, is this a blog post?

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