Despite a considerable amount of overlap, coaching and mentoring are two distinct methods of personal development for individuals working within an organisation. Most notable among the qualities that set them apart are scope, duration and formality. Mentoring and coaching are relevant to different situations where guidance is required and as such, understanding the subtleties is crucial before engaging in either.
The Case for Coaching
“Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player.”
Although Bill Gates is referring to games, this imperative was issued within the context of professionalisation in business. The message is clear: everybody can benefit from good coaching and success is rarely achieved without it.
Coaching in organisations tends to be short-term or set duration, often with a specific development issue or area in mind. A coach can be engaged to impart skills and correct problems and usually, they’re being paid for their work. They help by telling people how to make specific decisions or approach work with a new set of skills that will further their career and as a result, the entire organisation. Where business leaders and entrepreneurs are concerned, this could be anything from improving leadership skills, transitioning to a new role or even improving communication.
A typical coaching session involves meeting to give further instruction, field questions and track progress on a weekly or monthly basis. This generally involves goal-oriented discussion to identify areas for improvement and steps to see this improvement happen.
An example is: the owner of a company realises that two of his key staff members are communicating ineffectively with each other and this is causing disruption as neither is sure of their responsibilities at a given time. He engages a coach to teach specific tactics to foster clarity in their correspondence and introduces them to technology which will help them stay informed.
Coaching is a highly collaborative and trust-based process – not dissimilar to that of a teacher and student. Through engaging a coach, a business leader or entrepreneur is implicitly taking on several valuable lessons: that they have the power within themselves to improve, that collaboration works, and that success is achieved by processes which can be learned.
Business is inherently competitive – if the employees working in an organisation aren’t continuously improving the likelihood is they’re falling behind. Therefore, viewing coaching as an ongoing tool to help in a range of areas can potentially assist an organisation in maintaining a competitive advantage and staying ahead of the curve.
The Essence of Mentoring
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
When making the distinction between coaching and mentoring, it’s often said that the former involves a coach asking questions to draw out answers, while the latter involves asking questions of a mentor to draw from their wealth of experience.
Mentoring is a long-term process which addresses the entire spectrum rather than anything specific with the goal of advancing an individual career. The scope is entirely different – mentoring has no set term and encourages continual benefit over the long run. Mentorship is informal, voluntary and sometimes independent, that is, occurring outside of a particular organisation.
Although every career is unique, it’s trajectory is familiar. Having a mentor – someone with experience in a given field – can be an invaluable resource.
Successful business leaders and entrepreneurs benefit from mentorship. Better known examples include Steve Jobs, who found a mentor in Bill Hewlett of Hewlett Packard; Bill Gates, who admits to finding a mentor in Warren Buffett; and Richard Branson, who turned to airline entrepreneur Fred Laker for advice.
It should be noted that a mentor doesn’t have to be a paradigm of industry success – anyone with considerable experience in a given field and the willingness to provide advice is suitable. Every mature organisation has at least a few, and individuals usually know somebody who can help, but all too often, their insight goes unleveraged.
Coaching and Mentoring – Better Together
While coaching seeks to ensure the right questions are asked in a given situation, mentoring provides a system of guidance. Both have the ability to unlock human potential in different ways, and as such, they can be used in tandem for even greater impact. Industry giants such as Google, Boeing and Intel run ongoing coaching and mentoring programs side by side in an effort to ensure their longevity.