Coaching or Mentoring – what’s the difference…and why it matters.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Beatles. Nothing personal, they were an undoubtedly talented bunch, they just don’t do it for me musically. Oh, and by the way, Beatles vs. Stones? Definitely Stones, I like a drop of bitter!
However, as an introduction to the relative benefits of coaching and mentoring, the lyrics of the Beatles song ‘Help’ spring immediately to mind:
“Help, I need somebody, Help, not just anybody, Help, you know I need someone, help”.
In the business world there are a plethora of people willing to help. There are copious collections of consultants, advisors ad nauseum, coaches, mentors, consultants who coach, advisors who mentor. Then there are Career coaches, Confidence coaches, Resilience coaches, and Redundancy coaches with a touch of advice and just a frisson of added consultancy. Small business advisors, tall business advisors and so on. Jeez, enough already!
And yet, the simple truth is that if you can help, I mean, really help, an individual and their business, they probably won’t care what you call yourself, you could be the Fairy Godmother or Santa Claus, it won’t matter. And once they know that you genuinely care about their interests, what’s written on your business card will be of little consequence. Remember the adage that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
But there are some key differences between coaching and mentoring and it’s important to know the benefits of both. One of the most succinct phrases I’ve heard to differentiate between the two is that a good mentor will have some great answers for your questions, whereas a good coach will have some great questions for your answers.
In mentoring, the calibre and experience of the mentor themselves is particularly important. The mentor needs to have personal skills, knowledge, and expertise. A good mentor is willing to teach what he or she knows and accept the mentee where they currently are in their professional development.
While mentoring is often about giving advice, the value of just having a wise support who you can go to with your issues and who can listen and offer appropriate guidance can be of immense benefit, particularly where people may lack experience or specific knowledge.
In coaching, the need for words of wisdom or sage counseling is far less. Coaching is about harnessing and maximizing the existing skills, knowledge and wisdom of the individual and freeing them up so they can perform at their full potential, confidently and with increased clarity and focus. To do this successfully, both the coach and the client must enter into what’s known as the coaching relationship.
In this environment, there exists absolute trust between both parties. The two are equally committed in enabling the client to feel empowered to act, to deeply explore their motivation, find their personal ‘why’ and raise their awareness of the ‘art of the possible’.
Coaching can sometimes take the client into an uncomfortable place, as they explore the reasons behind their key decisions, get to really understand their basic drivers and discover what lies beneath their goals and objectives.
And once the need for change has been identified, taking decisive action can be sometimes difficult, even a little scary, which makes the coaches’ support and encouragement critical.
When I look back on my own career, and indeed, in my life, I have been very fortunate to have had a number of brilliant mentors who have supported me at key times. From teachers who helped me to love reading and writing (but not ‘rithmetic’), to the managers who displayed invaluable leadership qualities and aided me to develop in similar ways.
But it was coaching that had the power to change both my career and my direction in life. It was coaching that helped me to understand the things that are really important, what my values are and how I can harness these in the most effective way.
I have felt enabled to make radical changes both personally and professionally. And while these may have appeared tough decisions to take, once you can clearly see the journey ahead, altering the path you take is so much more straightforward.
So, coach or mentor? Undoubtedly there is a time for both. Each has a unique set of skills that can be used to guide, to support, to challenge and to empower the individual.
Leaving me to ponder whether it was coach or mentor Messrs. Lennon and McCartney had in mind when they wrote these famous words:
“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down, and I do appreciate you being round, help me, get my feet back on the ground, won’t you please help me!”