“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” ~ Zig Ziglar
Leadership is not a one-person game – some of the most successful names of our times credit their mentor’s assistance which helped them become leaders of high caliber.
Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg found a mentor in Steve Jobs. Jobs advised him on how to build a team focused on building high-quality and good things. Bill Gates, credits a large part of his success to businessman and investor, Warren Buffet and says Buffet taught him how to think long-term and deal with difficult situations. Virgin Group Founder, Richard Branson looked to British airline entrepreneur, Sir Freddie Laker and sought guidance during his struggle to get his airline, Virgin Atlantic off the ground.
As we climb up the ladder, there comes a time when we feel the need to fill the knowledge gap and develop new skills to assume leadership roles. Coaching and mentoring are two practices that help close these gaps and support the drive to achieve greater things.
However, coaching and mentoring are two terms that are quite carelessly used interchangeably. They are not interchangeable. At the same time, both mentors and coaches are both valuable resources. So how can you evaluate if your career needs a mentor or if you need a coach?
Mentors and coaches − who are these people?
Before we delve into the differences, it is essential to know that both mentors and coaches play significant roles in career development.
A mentor is a successful individual who you can look to for help and advice to navigate the challenges of the shortfalls that you face at work. A mentor is a trusted advisor. Mentorship thus becomes a more informal association and focuses on long-term career development.
A coach, on the other hand, is a person who teaches and trains you and helps you address specific issues. Once these issues are resolved, you typically move on. Coaching helps you unlock your potential and improve your performance. It is more focused on the ‘here and now’ and is a more formal and structured association.
Before you give us the ‘potato’ ‘po-tahto’ argument saying that both seem suspiciously similar, let us assure you that these terms are not mere jargon. Here are some of the main differences that will help you determine if you need a mentor or a coach in your life.
Orientation − which way does the cookie crumble?
One of the most defining factors differentiating mentoring and coaching is the orientation of the relationship. Mentoring is a long-term relationship. It’s the willingness to share professional and personal goals, successes, challenges, and secrets and design a roadmap for success.
Coaching, on the other hand, is a comparatively more transient relationship and is more outcome-driven. Coaching deals with goals that are more focused, specific, and at a more tactical level. Coaching takes care of more immediate needs to deal with existing work issues. Effective problem solving, strategic thinking, improved management skills, self-management, etc. in relation to the current work situation fall under the purview of coaching.
Relationship rules − transformational v/s transactional
Mentoring is a more reactive role that responds to issues as they emerge with the explicit purpose of developing the individual, rather than just skills, to meet their future needs. This makes mentoring more development-oriented.
Mentors offer their knowledge, advice, and expertise to guide you in the right direction and help you identify challenges and opportunities for career growth, improve interpersonal skills, and also improve confidence. The emphasis in mentoring is on active listening, and information sharing that is based on the mentor’s own experience and learnings.
Mentoring also takes a more self-directed approach where you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing a mentor. You approach mentoring by identifying your mentor and continuing the relationship using a timeline that determines how often and where you meet, assess, and identify the goals, etc.
Since mentoring is development-driven, its purpose becomes not only to develop you beyond just skills for your current job but also for your future. This also makes mentoring more transformational than transactional.
Coaching, on the other hand, addresses more specific skills and developmental goals and proceeds to break these down into more tangible tasks that must be completed within a specific timeframe. Unlike mentoring, where the mentor talks ‘with’ you, coaching adopts a more directive approach where the coach talks ‘to’ you to identify your needs and then crafts a development plan.
Coaching has a more structured approach methodology and works within a narrower perspective than mentoring. Coaching is more specific and more result oriented, and it is usually shorter in duration. A coach will help you identify and prioritize your goals based on importance and help you manage specific aspects of your job and help you become more result-oriented and competitive. Once you successfully acquire the skills you are seeking coaching for, you no longer need the coach.
The Design Architecture
Mentoring usually is not a very formal arrangement. When it is, it is in the form of an agreement where you and the mentor formalize your commitment to the mentoring relationship. Individual goals, meeting schedules, learning content, and communication methodologies are typical items that are included in this agreement.
Mentoring’s design architecture defines its specific strategic purpose, the mentoring models, the key focus areas, and identifies the components that will guide the relationship. There are no formal assessments here.
Coaching does not require a detailed design architecture as it can be conducted immediately for any given topic. Depending on your needs, coaching can employ several assessment instruments such as teaching evaluations, skills assessments, etc.
Which one suits you – Coaching or Mentoring?
You might already know which relationship will serve you better. While you deliberate on this, the simplest way to identify if you need mentoring or coaching is to see where you stand in your current situation and what your needs are. If there is a specific need that you have identified, such as how can you improve current processes for greater business efficiency, then look for a coach. If you want general advice on how to become more successful and want to focus on self-development, then look for the wisest mentor around.
Having a great coach or a mentor in your corner is always beneficial as we gravitate toward leadership roles. Finding the right coach or mentor can not only propel you on your path to greatness but will also help you minimize the pitfalls you encounter along the way. So, choose wisely.
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