Mentor or Coach

Over lunch a couple of days ago, we were discussing the subject of mentors and coaches and started to highlight the difference in the roles. Sometimes people can seemlessly operate in both roles at once, so the roles do not seem distinctly different, but they are.

We discussed a few items that seem to differentiate the two roles:

One of the items was Blind Spots. Coaching is designed to identify blind spots, where mentorship is more designed to overcome blind spots once identified. Sometimes the coach can guide the coachee in ways to overcome the blind spot, while in other situations they might recommend they obtain training or a mentor.

Another item was Proximity. Coaches are generally involved with what they are coaching you on, whereas a mentor is someone you mostly meet with to discuss things with. Coaches tend to actively participate in the thing they are coaching you on so they can witness your actions and provide advice and direction if improvement is needed.

Another item was Selection and Appointment. Although some organizations have more formal mentorship programs, generally coaching relationships are formal and assigned for a specific reason. Mentors are normally sought out to discuss and close a gap.

When we were discussing the subject, we discussed two different types of coaches–Lean Six Sigma and Executive. Both of these are very specific roles where an individual is involved with what is going on in a coachee’s life. In Lean Six Sigma, for example, the coach is engaged with every step of a coachee’s project,  guiding them in the application of the skills they should have learned already. If the coach recognizes that the coachee has difficulty in running meetings or presentations, they might suggest that the coachee obtain additional training in those areas. If the coach notices that the coachee has trouble with time management, they might suggest establishing a mentorship relationship with someone that they know is particularly good at time management. If the coach is good at time management, they might quickly switch into that mentor role, but this is outside of the original coaching arrangement.

This is why people often see coaches and mentors as the same thing–they can cover more areas than what they are specifically coaching for. In the case of an executive coach, the coach might be able to provide all kinds of advice and assistance on leadership and employee motivation. However, they probably would suggest the executive have a mentor if the coachee is trying to learn how to navigate the company’s culture toward promotion.

When you think about the roles, this should help you better delineate what each does and which you need.

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Do you have a personal coach?

Have you ever heard of top executives having executive coaches? Heard of people doing life coaching? What were your thoughts around people that have personal coaches…do you wish you had one?

Aren’t you worth it?

Why don’t you have a coach…I’m not talking about a mentor, I’m talking about a full-blown coach that you pay to provide you direction and advice, that helps you build personal and professional plans, and who holds you to standards and tells you like it is?

I can imagine that you think it’s too expensive to have your own coach…well, aren’t you worth it? We pay hundreds of dollars for gym memberships and sometimes personal trainers that a large percentage of people don’t use. We buy business books by the droves that generally sit on shelves and collect dust.

Why not consider hiring someone who is going to develop you so that you can do better at work, which could result in more pay and responsibility?

Are you already so good that you don’t need someone to coach you? Why are very effective executives turning to coaches? Aren’t they already very effective?

Why would you want a personal coach and what would you expect from them?

If you want to be more successful at work and at home…period…then hire a personal coach.

This is a paid consulting position…you are literally paying them to help you get better at everything you do. They aren’t going to do it for you, but they are going to point out your blind spots and guide you in fixing them.

Recently, I was sitting next to a senior executive that I’ve been working with during a meeting. He had a part where he got up and spoke. When he sat back down, he leaned over and asked, ” How did I do?” I looked him dead in the face and said, “We need to work on your ‘ums’.” His response back was, “Did I cover everything?”

The coach in me was screaming that it really didn’t matter…his message was lost because of his delivery approach. I told him, “Yes.”

A coach is not only someone who will tell you what you need to work on, but will show you why you need to work on it, will help you develop a plan to overcome your blind spot, and will hold you to your plan. Just when you think you are there, your coach shows you to the next step.

Recently, my boss was promoted in the position he’s been in–an in place promotion. Within a couple of weeks, we sat down over lunch and I asked him, “What’s next?” Clearly they didn’t promote him to continue to do what he’s been doing…now is the time to take things to the next level. The next morning we laid out a plan for the rest of the year and every other week we discuss his progress on that plan.

This is what you should expect from a coach.

In reality, coaches, are not as expensive as you might think. Sure you can hire extremely expensive coaches, but in reality, a personal coach should cost about as much an hour as a really good fitness coach. However, you’ll be paying every few days for that fitness coach because you’re going to need to work out at least three days a week and sometimes even more. A personal coach really only needs to meet with you occasionally, I mean you don’t want this person hanging around you all day…that would get creepy and probably a bit annoying. So, you really only need to meet with this person for a couple hours every other week at most.

What would you–what should you expect from a coach:

If you are paying someone to help you grow, then you should expect them to be honest and forthright. If you cannot accept constructive criticism, don’t bother hiring a coach. If your coach isn’t making you feel a little uncomfortable, then they probably are not helping you.

They should be able to align themselves to your needs…not your wants. If you hired me as a coach, and told me you wanted to become a better public speaker, I’d simply tell you to go to Toastmasters and you don’t need to hire me. What I would tell you, for the cost of nothing, is that you need to stop hiring people and telling them what you want. You need to tell me where you are going and ask how can I help you get there–better yet, you know you want to go somewhere, but you need help figuring out where you need to go. A good coach helps you understand what you really need and then helps you get there. Wants are immaterial.

Your coach should point out the barriers that you need to overcome to get where you need and then help you build you a plan to overcome those barriers. Those barriers might be you, your family, your boss, your coworkers, your job…it doesn’t matter. The coach should help you plan to overcome the barrier. When I say “help you plan,” I mean “help.” If your coach builds you a plan, throw the coach out of your office. If the coach isn’t showing you how to identify your obstacles and showing you how to plan to overcome them, then they just want to be your crutch not your coach.

Once you have a plan, your coach should be holding you to task. If they don’t know how to implement plans…you have the wrong coach. Having a plan is great, but not knowing how to implement the plan is like not having the plan at all. As a matter of fact, you’ll be even more frustrated because you have a plan. This is not to say that because you have a plan, suddenly everything starts falling into place. Plans take hard work to implement and the results of strategy are never really visible.

I have been working with an organization as a strategic business advisor–essentially a business coach to an entire organization–for a little over two years. Soon after I started, I laid out a long-term vision for that organization, which I’ve been slowly revealing to them. A good coach should know where you are going even if you don’t. About six to eight months ago, the person this team reports to, commented that all the things in the organization that were occurring were happenstance. I quickly corrected him…I laid out every strategic action the organization and it’s leadership had done in the last year and a half that led them to being in the right position strategically to seize the opportunity when it appeared.

The best coaches help you strategically position yourself to seize opportunities and then they can rewind the film over the actions that got you there. This is because you seldom see the fruits of strategy…strategy activities are normally too high level. You need someone who can tic and tie the actions to the results, which can almost seem random.

So, do you have a personal coach? If not, aren’t you worth it? Perhaps today you should take your first strategic step for the rest of your life…

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