Leaders frequently seek clarification from me on the difference between these two very different approaches. Confusing the two happens frequently for many of us, which means we are in good company! So here’s my take on the distinction.
Mentoring is the easy one to describe, reason being that most of us are flattered when asked to regale someone with our war stories and to provide advice and guidance based upon the many experiences we’ve collected. If I’m seeking a mentor, I’ll be looking for someone who’s been there, seen it, done it successfully and bought the T shirt within my field. I’m wanting to pick that person’s brain and benefit from suggested solutions that I can immediately apply to good effect.
The plus-side of this mentoring approach is that there’s a greater chance I’ll get a short-term result, given that if I selected my mentor well, they’ve got demonstrated success in dealing with these issues. So if my objective is urgent and important or is causing me a lot of problems, getting that quick fix could work out just great. The downside of a mentoring approach is that the recommended solution will always be my mentor’s. Even if I get a good result I will be implementing someone else’s solution. This approach delivers far less sustainable increase in both capacity and competency than taking a coaching approach.
Why? Simple answer is that when you consider a professional coach or coach-like leader helping with coaching, they won’t give you any advice and guidance. What! No advice and guidance! Who’s going to tell me what to do? The answer is yourself. The value a coaching approach adds for you comes from someone asking you really good questions and helping you to challenge your own thinking to reach your own potential solutions. This delivers far greater sustainable capacity and competency gains.
So which is ‘best’? Mentoring or coaching? That’ll depend on your own objectives. Both the mentoring and coaching approaches have value to offer. My own view is that if your objective is short term, urgent and important, I’d likely seek advice and guidance from a decent mentor. If I can take a longer term coaching approach that allows me to fail and learn, to refine my own solutions, then I’ll end up far more capable and with far greater capacity to continue learning more because I’ll not only know what solution will work, I’ll also be crystal clear as to why.
And because life’s never that clearcut, then there’s ‘laser coaching’, which is a topic for another day.
Disclaimer: All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.