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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