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Mentor or Coach – What’s Right For You?

Choosing a coach or a mentor is a very personal thing.

The key to securing the right support to help you achieve your best is about being crystal clear about your needs, thus directing you to the right approach. Both mentoring and coaching have fantastic results depending upon what you need right now…but it’s important to understand the difference.

When we hear the terms ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ used so interchangeably these days, it is sometimes hard to determine which is the best option for you.

So let’s explore the differences and benefits of both approaches, and then focus on how a mentor can support you achieve your highs…

Mentoring involves the development of a longer-term relationship and is focused on supporting the growth and development of the mentee. The mentor acts as a source of knowledge, teaching, and support, not someone who observes and advises on specific actions or behavioural changes in the day to day. Mentoring means ensuring the control of the situation is always with the mentee. However, once the challenges are properly identified and opened up, a variety of solutions are evident.

Coaching typically involves a more finite relationship, with a focus on strengthening or eliminating specific behaviours in the here and now. Coaches help you adapt behaviours that might be detracting from your performance or strengthen those that support stronger performance. 

Both mentoring and coaching offer valuable developmental support – mentorship offers knowledge and guidance for long-term development, while coaching helps provide a more immediate improvement in targeted areas. Here we focus a little more on mentoring…

So, what does a mentor DO for you?

  • Takes a long-range view of your growth and development.
  • Helps you see the destination but doesn’t provide a detailed map to get there.
  • Offers encouragement and cheerleading, but not precise “how-to” advice.

And, what DON’T they do for you?

  • Function as an advocate of yours in the organisational environment such as your boss would; the relationship is more informal. 
  • Tell you how to do things.
  • Support you on transactional, short-term problems.
  • Serve as a counsellor or therapist. 

Your Mentoring Relationship

Clarity around the role of the mentor is critical to the success of your relationship, so identifying and talking through both yours and their expectations has to be the start point. Here are some tips to consider when considering who might be a great mentor for you:

  1. Invest your time in seeking out a mentor with whom you feel a natural and easy fit.
  2. Share your goals, concerns, and fears openly.
  3. Don’t expect the mentor to solve your short-term problems or do the work for you.
  4. Don’t expect specific advice. 
  5. Be honest about where you feel you are struggling or failing. 
  6. Listen carefully and then research and apply your mentor’s guidance.
  7. Show that you value the mentor’s support. 
  8. Never abuse the relationship by expecting ‘political’ support in the organisation (if the mentor is internal to your business). 

Your Role as a mentee

  • Focus on being open to hearing feedback from your mentor whether it’s positive or developmental.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for unvarnished advice or feedback. Practice your skills as a good listener, take what you can use, and leave the rest.
  • Specify upfront some initial goals you have, such as learning procedures or processes, or preparing yourself for a potential promotion meeting for example.
  • Agree with your mentor how you can measure the success and effectiveness of your working relationship together.
  • Make it your accountability to schedule time with your mentor and keep those appointments faithfully.
  • As you commit to certain steps or discuss taking educated risks to support your development, keep track of your discussions with your mentor and follow up specifically on those steps when you meet.

Methodology & Benefits

Mentoring can be delivered in a number of ways – you could source a professional or external mentor who is an expert in your sector or field, or look to your internal network, inside your organisation to develop a mentoring relationship which is unpaid and more philanthropic.

Many organisations are now realising the enormous benefits of developing an internal Mentorship Programme, investing in training for prospective mentors, adding value to their role, developing their skills, and supporting either younger or less experienced employees to grow in the business.  An internal mentoring programme will retain & drive best practice through cross functional business support, encouraging ownership for self-learning and development – the final responsibility is always with the mentee but with ‘on-hand’ support. It also prepares for succession planning for both parties, through opportunity to demonstrate initiative and show a ‘step-up’ mindset – talent development and retention at its best!

So, now you know the benefits of mentoring and understanding the difference between coaching and mentoring, which is best for you?

If you’d like to explore the benefits of developing an internal Mentoring Programme for your business, please get in touch with us.

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Mentor or Coach – What’s Right For You?

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