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Mentor vs Role Model – what is the difference?

Written by
Julia Gumeniuk
Published on
February 9, 2023

Have you ever wondered if a mentor and a role model mean the same? While for some, it might seem there's no difference between a mentor and a role model, the truth is quite the opposite. A mentor is someone who can show a good example and teach best practices. In contrast, a role model can offer both positive and negative examples, and it will be up to a person to understand the difference and learn only good.

We might encounter a role model example starting from early childhood. For example, the majority of children (93.4%) from 7 to 18 years old have at least one role model; most usually, these would be mothers (67.4%), fathers (60.2%), teachers, Youtubers or sportspeople (literacytrust.co.uk).

On the other hand, a mentor, who helps a less experienced person to develop professionally, might come into our lives later, during high school, university, or already employment years. While supporting learning or professional growth, mentors can also become role models, followed by their mentees.

Still unsure what is the difference between a mentor and a role model? Read on to learn more.

The difference between a mentor and a role model

Although a mentor and a role model might carry the similar purpose of looking up to them and learning best practices, there are more differences than similarities between both. 

According to the dictionary, a role model is someone worthy of imitation (vocabulary.org). However, it doesn't mean that a person will imitate only good behavior. Someone might have a role model with negative or even destructive behavior that the person might be a fan of. A mentor, on the other hand, often serves as a teacher of professional skills, positively impacting mentees and pulling them up their career ladder. 

Most often, role models are people seen on TV, Youtube, or anywhere in social media without direct access to a person who admires them, leaving space for idealization. Mentors are most often assigned based on mentees' needs, communicating directly with each other and leaving all mysteries aside. 

Usually, role models don't select their behavior and act according to their personal needs, leaving a person admiring them with a choice to follow or not follow them and decide for themselves if that role model is trustworthy. Mentors, in contrast, care about their relationship with mentees, working hard on trust and support. 

Role models unknowingly influence the decision-making of their followers if those decide to do the same because they admire their role models (what can be both good and bad examples). Mentors, on the other hand, influence the decision-making of mentees on purpose, with development goals and career growth in mind, being always a positive influence. 

Role model vs Mentor

  • Public figure vs Professional 
  • No direct contact vs Direct contact
  • Idealization vs No mystery 
  • Influence unknowingly vs Influence deliberately 
  • Chosen by a person vs can be found through a mentoring program 
  • Good and bad influence vs Only good influence  
  • Don’t need to be trustworthy vs Relationship is built on trust 

The importance of a role model in life

After finding out the differences between a mentor and a role model, you might ask – what is the importance of a role model in life – if that role model can affect us both positively and negatively? The truth is a role model who shows a good example can give us a massive positive impact starting from childhood and inspire us in our adult days. What's needed is to pick wisely. 

During childhood, role models play an essential part in a child's positive development, teaching them how to live with integrity, optimism, hope, determination, and compassion. A role model can help a child to find passion in education, pick a hobby that later can become a life's work, or know how to make the right choices in difficult life situations. 

When we become adults, role models can have the same importance to us as during our childhood years. A good role model can help us set clear career goals and inspire us to grow, showing by their own example that it's possible to reach that position or start that business. Role models can also remind us of our long-forgotten passion and inspire us to do more of what brings us joy. 

During our adult years, it's essential to have someone who supports our development ideas. For some, it can be a role model who shows the example of development, be it a famous person, actor, writer, or even less-known professional known to a person.

Benefits of having a role model 

What are the benefits of having a role model? Once chosen wisely, a role model can massively impact a person's life, bringing many benefits and life-changing events. The impact can vary from minor changes implemented daily to significant career changes inspired by a role model. 

A positive perspective is one of the main benefits of having a role model. Imagine you're a non-native English person with a passion for writing. The big dream of your life is to write a book that will become a bestseller. However, your confidence is low because you are convinced you're non-native and won't ever become a prominent writer. But what if you had a role model who is also non-native and has already sold many great books? Such a role model will give you a positive perspective and hope that your dream is very realistic, giving you the passion and inspiration to work on your development further. 

Another significant benefit is a sense of purpose. It's quite easy to lose a sense of purpose, especially after many years in a repetitive or uninspiring job. However, a role model whose career or business you admire can bring back your inspiration and positive thinking, showing that what you want is possible. Their happiness and success can be your north star, giving you the drive and motivation to reach your goals. 

How many role models is a good amount to have? The answer is not quantity but quality. If you have one role model you admire who supports your passion, motivates you to reach new horizons, and makes you more confident – one is more than enough. But you're free to have more role models if, for example, you can take the best from each. One might inspire you with their confidence, another can give you new ideas, and third can share their positive vibes with you. 

The importance of a mentor in life 

It’s clear that a role model is someone who can motivate and spark passion, but then what is the importance of a mentor in life? A mentor, in contrast to a role model, doesn’t only motivate but can also provide you with tools and give advice on how to reach your goal in a most efficient way. 

What do mentors do? A mentor is someone who can help you develop professionally, by listening to your dreams and struggles, understanding your skills, and giving you tools to help you move further. Being a professional in the field, a mentor can share their experience with you, the career path they’ve taken and challenges they’ve encountered. It means you can learn from their mistakes and make your way to the dream job less complicated. 

Providing support is another essential thing that mentors usually do. It’s not possible to reach any goal without believing you can do it. While a role model can provide you with motivation, it works only if you have that mental connection in mind. In the contrast, a mentor is someone who can directly reach out to you and talk to you, motivating you along the way, cheering you up, and removing all obstacles, in a form of imposter syndrome and similar. 

Then what is the role of a mentor to a mentee? Usually, a mentee considers its mentor a teacher, a trainer, and a leader. A mentor teaches a mentee sharing best practices, trains them by giving tasks to perform, and lead in a right direction to move up the career ladder. However, a mentor can also be a role model. If a mentee appreciates work of a mentor, being impressed with their career and experience they have, a mentee can look up to its mentor as a role model. This combination is considered the best, as then a role model can not only inspire but also give tools how to share that desired outcome. 

Benefits of having a mentor

What are the benefits of having a mentor? The benefits of having a mentor are almost unlimited. According to stats from completed mentoring programs run by Femme Palette, after being involved in a mentoring relationship: 

  • 90% mentees increased their confidence, 
  • 84% had a better vision of their career, 
  • 87% were ambitious for more responsibility, 
  • 87% improved their feedback skills and learned new things, 
  • 90% improved their hard/soft skills.

Over the 12 mentoring sessions, I have learnt and developed in many aspects of my career and personal life. Through the program, my mentor has helped me switch careers successfully, grow confidently and improve on my overall personal development with increased focus and ambition. It’s a wonderful experience to learn from the experience of my mentor and have the support and guidance, especially when switching careers and starting from the beginning again. I’ve learnt a very important lesson: the power of learning from and reaching out to others who’ve walked the path before you.

  • Ayan Ali, Junior Frontend Developer at Elsewhen

As mentioned before, a mentor can not only motivate a mentee as a role model but actually help reach goals by giving guidance and advice. A mentor encourages and supports a mentee, providing them with valuable feedback. A mentor can also help build a professional network by introducing a mentee to other professionals in the mentor's area. 

How do I find a mentor? 

There are many ways to find a mentor, starting from a company you work for and locating professionals that can share their skills with you to joining special mentoring programs that find you a mentor based on your needs, such as the Femme Palette Mentoring Program

The organized external program might bring more value, as a mentor will cover the area outside your work environment, bringing you new ideas and alternative ways of development. It also allows you to enrich your network by meeting with a professional from another company or business. 

Having a mentor was like having a career therapist. Over the six months of mentorship I built a solid foundation of skills and confidence that I will use to achieve my goals.

  • Molly Young, Customer Service and Operations Assistant at Karen Mabon Ltd.

Do you want to join the Femme Palette Mentoring Program so that we find you a mentor who might even become your role model? Feel free to schedule a call to discuss your goals and mentor's requirements. 

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