Last week I ran a workshop on coaching and mentoring, the last in a series of three and a great bunch of people came together to think about some of the similarities and differences of these two roles and how they are used in organisations. In essence a mentor is someone who ‘has been there, done that and got the ‘T’ Shirt’ and a coach (if they’re working on performance) is someone who can use your potential to get you to the next level. All clear and understood? Well not really I hear you say, because as soon as you start doing this kind of work in companies you very soon realise that the two activities take place on a continuum that is very flexible, so much so that you may even switch right in the moment when you are with a client.
Mentoring is now really taking off, which is fantastic and there are mentor buddies for all kinds of situations, for example for women returning from maternity leave, for youngsters to mentor older employees in IT skills, to workplace mentors who are also change agents if new ways of working are being embedded. There are also funded schemes for businesses and look at the wonderful work the Princes Trust does for young people.
We like to think that mentors are generally advisers and coaches are communications experts who do more in-depth work around values, behaviours and achievements but in reality there is a continuum for both. A mentor who never has to counsel someone on how new behaviours could advance their career is probably rare and a coach who never opens up a discussion on choices based somewhat on their own experience would be too. It is far better to be clear about when they are both appropriate rather than ignore they exist. Having been coaching in companies since 2004 with hundreds of hours under my belt, I know I’m not perfect but I am also not a ‘vanilla coach’ (a term recently coined by Peter Burditt in ‘Coaching at Work’) because if you make a habit of coaching Chief Executives and senior teams you have to have authority and business experience to be able to make a contribution.
Whatever your viewpoint and interest enjoy mentoring and coaching but remember life is never simple, and you may stray from one to the other and that’s OK.
By Carolyn Hooker