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What non-executive role type gets the best out of you?


What non-executive role type and what environment get the best out of you? In this article, we help you understand different non-executive roles when you look to support start-up and scaling businesses. Who are you or want to be: a coach, mentor, board advisor, advisory board member, or non-executive director?

The roles of coach, mentor, board advisor, advisory board member, and non-executive director (NED) each bring unique value to an organisation. Understanding the differences and similarities among these roles is key to identifying what to look and determining which position to negotiate with organisations. For senior leadership teams, business owners or entrepreneurs, knowing what expertise and guidance are needed is equally critical to achieving success. This article explores the key differences and similarities among these roles to inform your decision.

Defining each of the roles


A coach is a professional focused on enhancing individual or team performance. Their primary objective is to help clients achieve specific personal or professional goals through structured guidance and support. Engagements with coaches are often short- to medium-term and are tailored to address particular needs. Coaches typically excel in facilitation, active listening, and goal-setting techniques. They create a formal and structured relationship with regular sessions. The impact of a coach is seen in personal and professional growth, leading to improved performance.


A mentor offers long-term career guidance and support, often in an informal capacity. The mentor’s role is to help mentees navigate their career path by sharing insights and experiences. Engagements tend to be long-term, focusing on overall career development. Mentors possess deep industry knowledge and the ability to provide practical advice. The relationship between mentor and mentee is typically more personal and less formal, often developing organically. The impact of mentorship includes career progression, increased confidence, and expanded networks.

Board advisor

Board advisors provide strategic advice and expertise to the board or executive team. Their objective is to offer insights on specific issues, projects, or decisions, making their engagement project-based or ongoing as needed. Board advisors bring expert knowledge in specific areas such as finance, marketing, or strategy. While they provide valuable advisory input, they do not have formal decision-making power. The impact of board advisors is seen in enhanced decision-making, strategic direction, and risk management.

Advisory Board Member

Advisory board members are part of a group that offers non-binding strategic advice to the company. Their objective is to provide diverse perspectives and expertise to support company growth. Engagements typically involve periodic meetings focusing on specific business areas. Advisory board members bring a broad range of expertise relevant to the company’s needs. Unlike formal board members, they have no fiduciary responsibility. Examples of the impact of advisory board members may include broadened strategic thinking, network expansion, and market insights.

Non-executive director

Non-executive directors are company directors, members of the board and provide independent oversight. Their primary objective is to ensure the company is governed effectively, safeguarding shareholders’ (and increasingly stakeholders’) interests. NEDs are engaged on a long-term basis (3-year tenure quite common, renewable once or twice), attending regular board meetings and fulfilling ongoing responsibilities. The relationship is formal, with NEDs holding legal and fiduciary responsibilities. The impact of NEDs is seen in enhanced corporate governance, accountability, and strategic guidance.

Of note, in regulated industries, having formal NEDs is often a regulatory requirement to ensure independent oversight and compliance with industry standards. Additionally, for companies seeking to raise funding, independent NEDs can be crucial. They bring credibility and assurance to potential investors, demonstrating that the company adheres to standards of governance and accountability.

Key similarities

  1. All roles aim to improve business performance and strategic direction.
  2. Each role brings specific expertise and experience to provide value to the organisation.
  3. The level and type of engagement and impact vary based on the organisation’s specific needs.

Key differences

  1. Coaches and mentors focus on individual development, while board advisors, advisory board members, and NEDs concentrate on company strategy and governance.
  2. Coaches and mentors often have more flexible, informal engagements compared to the formal, structured roles of NEDs and advisory board members.
  3. NEDs have legal and fiduciary responsibilities, whereas other roles provide advice without formal decision-making authority.

Evolving roles and portfolios

NEDonBoard members often have portfolios that combine different role types, making their professional lives varied, challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable. The ability to wear multiple hats allows you to provide comprehensive support tailored to the evolving needs of organisations.

Moreover, the nature of these roles and relationships can evolve over time as the organisation develops. You may start a relationship with an organisation as a board advisor and the role may evolve into a formal non-executive position.

As situations and operating environments change, the style of engagement must also adapt. For instance, during the heightened stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many NEDs adopted a coaching approach with CEOs to help them navigate the crisis more effectively. This adaptability is crucial in ensuring that the support provided remains relevant and impactful.


Understanding these key roles will help you make informed decisions about how best to leverage your expertise at the right time. Whether providing personal development as a coach or mentor, offering strategic guidance as a board advisor, contributing diverse perspectives as an advisory board member, or ensuring effective governance as a non-executive director, each role plays a critical part in driving business success. By recognising the unique contributions and appropriate contexts for each role, you can optimise your impact and guide organisations to achieve their strategic objectives.

Related resources:

Why companies should consider setting up Advisory Boards

NEDonBoard success story: accessing exclusive advisory board opportunities

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