Mentoring and professional coaching are frequently used interchangeably in theory and practice in the business world. Most often, organizations and individuals engage in a mentoring or coaching relationship for professional development purposes.
While they share similarities, there are distinct differences, which affect their application and outcomes. Knowing when to use each of these methods of development is key to realizing their full effectiveness.
Similarities between mentoring and coaching
- Mentoring and coaching focus on positive future outcomes, professional growth and learning.
- Mentoring and coaching can be very effective methods of development if utilized properly. Both require understanding the problem you are trying to solve, clarifying the experience you wish to have, understanding where you are in your career and determining how much effort you are willing to put in on your own.
- The mentee and the client receive more out of the relationship or partnership than the mentor and the coach. The mentor and coach are devoted to the mentee or client success.
- The mentee or client own the agenda and are responsible for their actions.
Differences between mentoring and coaching
- Coaching works with a client to develop unique, personalized, lasting solutions to professional and personal development issues by improving a client’s self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall “thinking process”.
- Mentoring offers specific advice usually from a senior position within the organization who has “been there before”.
- Coaches are professionally trained to evoke their clients fullest potential, being careful not to be didactic which limits the learning process.
- Mentors are expected to give solid advice and are happy to do so.
- Coaching engagements work within specific parameters including a focused development plan, formal reporting to the corporate sponsor, and a specific end date in which the goals should be met.
- Coaching utilizes professional assessment tools such as The Leadership Circle Profile 360 to help discover development opportunities, then formulate a development plan that drives the coaching sessions.
- Mentoring engagements can be broader in scope and are usually longer-term.
- Mentoring meetings are often more brainstorming oriented with a collaborative effort to find the best solution.
- Mentoring can be informal, while coaching is a formal relationship.
- Mentors help identify resources for particular projects or problems.
- Mentors offer access to new contacts, make introductions to important people in your field.
Coaching in practice
Coaching is a collaborative partnership between coach and client to work towards specific, jointly agreed upon goals. It is assumed the client has the wisdom and ability to generate their own unique solutions, which will work best for them and their situation. Instead of telling or advising, the coach assists in self-discovery by using probing questions, active listening, reflection and objective feedback to assist the client in creating new possibilities for action. Coaching emphasizes personal empowerment and responsibility towards the client’s development, whereas mentoring is more of a “here is what I did” experience.
Coaching evokes a personalized plan, process or approach that best suits the client therefore producing lasting, transformational change. Allowing the client to develop through a personalized approach allows for development of a skill that can be applied to different situations and that can be enhanced, refined and mastered to provide the greatest impact to the individual for the longest term. Is it more work? Yes. With out a doubt. But the rewards a truly committed client will reap transcend their professional and personal lives.
For example, a client is seeking to advance to the next level within their organization. The coach and the client assess the client’s strengths, challenges and competencies towards the advancement and create a development plan to move the client forward. Through regularly scheduled coaching conversations, the coach helps the client develop awareness, explore possibilities, take new actions and create new practices around their strengths, challenges and competencies to achieve their desired goal of advancement. The coach does not offer specific guidance on how to advance, but allows the client to develop his or her own unique style, which ties organically to their values and strengths.
Coaches can be internal (staff at your company) or external (brought in for specific people or programs). When working with an external coach, the client is more free to express their true obstacles and concerns without worrying it could be held against them in the future. This allows for greater growth by facing and working through those concerns to gain confidence and a solution that will work for them.
Mentoring in practice
Mentoring is often hierarchical, where the mentor is in a senior position and has experience, knowledge and contacts the mentee hopes to gain from at this particular point in their career. The mentor transfers knowledge based on his or her own experience. The mentee creates goals and embarks on a learning plan where the mentor can use his/her expertise to help guide the mentee towards their destination.
Take a leader, which is seeking to guide a mentee towards advancement into a particular position within the company. In this instance, a mentor with experience in the area can provide a forum for guiding the mentee forward through conversations, questions, advice, actions and even introductions to the “right people” in the company. The mentor’s expertise is necessary to help the mentee manage his way through the organization to learn and grow into the area or position. The mentee gains many of the tactical prescribed steps, but misses out on fully developing their own tools to allow them to do this more, if not completely, independently in the future.
In conclusion, coaching is a formal relationship where the coach assists the client in changing thinking and behaviors to develop new competencies and ways of being towards their goals. Mentoring is usually informal where the mentor gives advice on the road he/she has taken to assist the mentee in achieving their developmental goals.
Understanding the similarities, differences and applications between mentoring and coaching gives leaders and managers powerful distinctions as to the application and expected outcomes from each discipline. Both mentoring and coaching are powerful tools for professional growth, depending on what your desired goal is, point in your career and learning style.