Coaching or mentoring
These are different, but often discussed in the same context. Both focus on helping you develop and grow but they do it in different ways. Understanding this will help you to decide whether you need a coach or a mentor.
Coaching is more likely to be question-based, content-free and agnostic. It provides you with a wise sage who asks the questions you didn’t see coming. Or maybe the questions you knew were coming but kept trying to avoid!
Mentoring is much more focused on content and expertise. If you’re stuck on something in your business – or maybe perplexed by too many choices – then mentoring can help you prioritise what to do next.
Both routes will leave you with a plan. The difference is that with a coach you’ll find out the answers for yourself. A mentor is more likely to offer suggestions on you what to do.
When would I choose a coach or a mentor?
Imagine you’re a top athlete. For lots of business owners this will need a lot of imagination ?♀️
You think a tailored nutrition plan might help you achieve that extra 1% of performance.
A coach can help you believe in the idea of nutrition and perhaps get you to commit to following the plan one day after another. But you need a subject expert to advise you specifically what to eat. That’s more of a mentor.
Either way you’ll notice responsibility for results still rests with you.
There are many circumstances in which you might want external support like this. Maybe you:
- Want to talk and explore your own thinking in order to gain insight or clarity
- Need a level of challenge from your internal team that’s not forthcoming
- Have a specific knowledge or skill gap in your team
- Have a temporary need of input that isn’t worth creating headcount for
- Have a personal problem in your team that the boss can’t fix
Figuring out your objectives is crucial before committing your time and money to a coach or a mentor.
How do I choose between a coach or a mentor?
Your first port of call when deciding between a coach or a mentor might be to ask around. Find someone who’s recommended. Bear in mind, though, that not everyone has the same criteria.
These are a few characteristics you might look out for. A good coach or mentor will:
Ask great questions. In your first moments together you should be able to see they are working hard to determine what’s going on and whether they are the best person to help you
Ask great questions. In your first moments together you should be able to see they are working hard to determine what’s going on and whether they are the best person to help you:
- Ask great questions. In your first moments together you should be able to see they are working hard to determine what’s going on and whether they are the best person to help you
- Bring insight. Breakthroughs are more likely to happen when your advisor is prepared to challenge you and ask tough questions
- Adapt their style. You need someone who can quickly tap into your current problems and use that as a context to help you create the brighter future you’re aiming for
- Listen more than talk. A great coach keeps their own ego firmly in their pocket and their focus on you. Someone who repeatedly needs to tell you how good they are might not be what you need
- Provide the basics. Of course you should expect confidentiality, trust, honesty, being on your side, kindness, empathy and humour. Yes, you can have a laugh along the way ?
What can go wrong with a coach or a mentor?
Always remember that a coach or a mentor relationship is between two grown-ups. If it’s not quite working then you should feel this is something you can discuss between the two of you.
Not all relationships last forever, though, and you might have different objectives today compared to what you needed two or three years ago. Choose on current needs.
Things you might want to look out for that can make things tricky include:
- It can feel invasive. As a company boss you might never have been held to account before. Let’s be honest, your team won’t tell you directly even when you’re screwing up
- This level of scrutiny can feel uncomfortable and it’s worth being honest up front about how you might respond
- It can be ambiguous. With coaching in particular you might feel like you’re just answering lots of questions rather than getting firm answers. Maybe what you needed was more mentor than coach
- The pace might not be what you expect and you need to give yourself a break here. Neither coaching nor mentoring is meant to give you brilliant results tomorrow
- You might find yourself revitalised by the conversations and you might recognise a new sense of focus. These can help you apply yourself better right away
- But the real emphasis of coaching and mentoring is to make you a better leader for the rest of your days. It’s a long term growth curve, so if you’re only measuring tactical wins you’re not getting the full benefit
The first step is to admit you want to try something new and give it a go. Nobody knows all the answers and actually the smart people are the ones who realise this and take a chance. What are you waiting for?