Role Models vs. Mentors


Mentor word cloud

Being a mentor is a perfect way to increase your influence.

I talk a lot about the importance of having mentors and what they can offer in our lives. I rarely ever talk about role models. What is the difference between role models and mentors? Lets look at each individually and then hit on the big difference. 


Mentors are people who are on the same path that we are traveling. Regardless of how far ahead they are on that path the common denominator is that we are traveling in the same direction. We are going after the same thing.

For me I have 2 kinds of mentors, the guys who are walking my sam path but just a few steps ahead of me. David Crandall is one of these guys for me. The other mentors are the guys who are way older than me and already realized much of what I am going after. Both of these kinds of mentors highly influence my life by direct contact. That contact, at times, is verbal, written, or otherwise. But it is directed directly at me. I enjoy this because mentors have a personal relationship about them. They are involved in my life and know the details of what I am doing or not doing. Their feedback and guidance is priceless.

Role Models

On the other hand, a role model is someone who we pick that we want to be like, but does not have the same personal impact in our lives. A role model is someone who lives their life and you are a spectator to it. Sure there may be times when you interact with them in a small, non-personal fashion, but you really are learning from them by observation not through personal interaction.

Do not be confused, you may know just about everything about them but if they know nothing of you then it does not move them into the category of a mentor.

Think back to when you were a kid. As a boy I always studied the stats and watched ESPN to learn everything I could about different players in all kinds of sports. I looked up to these guys and watched what they did, on and off the court. After watching the play I would run outside to the back yard or down the street to the park and imitate what I had just seen. I wanted to be like them. I had all their cards, I mean all of them. Actually I think I still have them.

These athletes were my role models. Not just the guys on ESPN either. I would watch the high school games at school when I was in 6th grade and think these guys had it all, I mean they could like touch rim and all. One guy could even dunk, if there were no defenders and he had a break away. But let’s be honest they knew no more about me then the guys on ESPN. They were all just role models. They were people who I modeled my life after. Their role became something I wanted to imitate.

The Difference

The biggest area that sets these two apart is interaction. A mentor will have meaningful and personal interaction with you, while a role model you only observe. Observation and Interaction. The difference is staggering though when you play them out over the long haul.

Putting Blue Jeans On It 

  • Pay attention to the mentors you have. Their interaction in your life is highly valued. Learn from them and ask them questions.
  • Understand who your role models are. They may not have the same personal interaction with you but you will still imitate them in many regards. Know who they are.

A special word to parents.

Be intentional about placing role models in front of your kids. If you let the media do it the will start to idolize the wrong people. Their role models WILL impact who they become. Intentionally place before them role models who embody the same values that your family have. The role models should reinforce your family values not oppose them.

4 thoughts on “Role Models vs. Mentors

  1. Tim, I like how you break this down. I’m glad you had a special word for parents because I think this is really critical. We live in a world where it seems we glamorize the wrong role models. The Jersey Shore and Lindsay Lohan types are not people I want my kids looking up to as role models and yet they are constantly in the news and on TV. Probably the most important mentor kids can have are their parents. Keep up the great writing.

    • Thanks Man, I appreciate it. As parents it is crucial. I am just at the beginning of this whole thing, as my son is only 1. I am encouraged to know that other parents are seeing the same thing as I am and looking to engage it as their kids are growing up.

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