Mentoring Vs. Coaching

  • 2 mins read

At its most basic level, mentoring is the simple act of helping someone learn. But the relationship between the helper and ‘helpee’ changes significantly when performed as a learning partnership. Today’s competitive organizations need ‘learning entrepreneurs’, whose curiosity is valued over conformity.

“Mentoring magic cannot be a solo performance. It is not a one-way, master-to-novice transaction. To be effective and lasting, it must be accomplished through a two-way relationship – the synchronized efforts of two people.” ~ Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith, Managers as Mentors, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Third Edition, 2013

Words like ‘mentor’ and ‘coach‘ are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction:

  • Coaching is specifically aimed at nurturing and sustaining performance.
  • Mentoring focuses on learning; its primary outcome should be competence, proficiency, skill, know-how and/or wisdom.

Coaching is practiced by managers who are responsible for meeting performance goals and by executive coaches who are hired to boost personnel development. Mentoring can be practiced without the supervisory constraints imposed by the organizational hierarchy.
While coaching and mentoring are similar, this article will assume that a mentoring partnership:

  1. Exists between two people (usually one more experienced than the other)
  2. Is dedicated to promoting self-directed learning and development

What do we need to understand about mentoring, and how can this relationship be most helpful? How do you know when it’s the right time to find a mentor? What’s the best way to start a mentoring relationship?
In the work I do with clients, you’d be surprised at how many assumptions people make about mentoring. Because there are so many misconceptions about what goes on in mentoring and coaching, it makes sense to clarify expectations before any such relationship is started. In the end it doesn’t matter what you call it, but everyone should be clear on the intended outcomes.
Setting up a partnering relationship to improve performance goals is different from one designed to enhance learning and personal development qualities. Unless you, your boss, and your mentor or coach clarify desired outcomes, there may not be any.
In this series of blog posts about mentoring, I’m using the word mentoring for a relationship in which two people (one more experienced than the other) focus on learning what’s needed for improved competency, know-how, and wisdom within the context of the organization.
What’s been your experience working with a mentor or a coach? I’d love to hear from you.

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