Why Mentoring is not Coaching

Aimed Business Opinion on customer serviceAs a Gloucestershire Growth Hub and Warwick Business School Alumni mentor, I’m often in conversations about the differences between coaching, mentoring and consulting.

Some believe each of these to be distinctly different.

Yet often the skills and methodologies that might be deployed can seem the same. This in practice those distinctions are blurred.

My own take is that there is at least one key difference between a mentor and a coach.

The Difference is Approach

Mentoring and coaching sit on the spectrum that goes from interim manager, through consultant, coach, mentor to advisor. That spectrum starts with the hands-on individual brought in to apply their knowledge in the practical situation as a member of staff. It ends with a trusted someone who dispenses advice that may apply in the general situation. But that advice may not be tailored to the specifics of the company or individual.

Consultant, coach and mentor sit in the middle. Some consultancy assignments are very hands-on. A consultant applies their knowledge to a situation and proposes a solution. Similar to a coach/mentor, they consider the desired outcome from the client and bring knowledge, skills and processes to enable the client to achieve that outcome. A coach/mentor is more likely from the outset to continue working with the client during implementation.

The overlap between coaching and mentoring, is that unlike most consultancies, the client is deploying the solution and has to do much more of the work to achieve it. The difference is the focus of the mentor is not to just provide a solution this time. A true mentor’s outcome is to enable the client to reflect more fully on the processes, so that next time the mentor is not needed.

Good Mentoring

Effective mentoring is not a time-served senior manager saying this is my experience and therefore copy what I have done. And by the way here’s access to my address book to give you the contacts you need. Good mentoring is based upon discussion and questioning to understand what is appropriate and achievable for the mentee to do in their circumstances. Coaching may say trust me, just do this and don’t ask why.

Often a mentoring session starts with what are the mentee’s goals and therefore what is today’s agenda. Coaches have a more focused plan and strategy working through how to achieve the previously agreed goals. The session then deals with questioning the realities and perceptions around the current and desired situation. Good coaches also do this as effective strategies are clear on the obstacles that must be overcome for the individual.

The third step is opportunities that stem from the goals and realities or could be associated with them. Finally there is the definition of the small next step to be taken within 24 hours. This turns the thoughts into action.

Good mentors make good coaches. They help the client think fully about their situation and then deploy solutions based on the real and perceived situation and the desired goals.

In elite sports most coaches are also mentors. Because they understand that ultimate performance is based on marginal gains responsive to the precise circumstances the sportsperson faces in the match and the tournament. The mentored sportsperson recognises the situation and acts to win.